One thing the Gophers’ 23-7 loss to Iowa on Saturday proved is that the program is still in the building stage and not ready to compete with more experienced football teams.
The score actually didn’t tell the story of how much Iowa outplayed the Gophers in this game.
Watching this game, it was evident that coach Jerry Kill had better players when he was at Northern Illinois, where he and had time to build the program. It was Northern Illinois that both handed Iowa its only loss of the season and also crushed Purdue on Saturday.
Kill has mentioned more than once that the youth of this team will be a problem, and this game again demonstrated how important experience is.
The Hawkeyes completely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and like Kill said, when you get outplayed on both sides of the line, you aren’t going to win games.
Iowa gained 246 yards on the ground to 30 for the Gophers, with Mark Weisman leading the charge with 24 carries for 147 yards.
And Hawkeyes first-year starting quarterback Jake Rudock performed like he was Joe Montana, with the Gophers defensive line not laying a hand on him the entire game. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 215 yards, including a 74-yard completion for a touchdown.
On the other side, the big surprise was when Philip Nelson started at QB after the great performances by Mitch Leidner in the previous two games.
But Nelson is a better passer than Leidner, and it was likely that Kill and the coaches, in studying film, decided the Gophers would have trouble running the ball and decided going through the air was the solution if they were to win this game.
Kill explained how Leidner would have been used. “If we’d have got into a situation where Philip was using his legs a lot and had to run, yes. We would have played Mitch. But we never got in that situation. We couldn’t run the ball, we had to throw the ball. So we went with maturity, and that was the decision that was made.”
Now the Gophers face the tough task of playing on the road at Michigan and Northwestern the next two weeks, and both teams are better than Iowa.
It will be a real challenge these next two games.
Must-win game in London
No doubt the Vikings need to win Sunday’s game for a lot of reasons, but an important fact to remember is that they will have 14 players in uniform today in London when they face the Steelers who will be free agents next season.
The club might lose a number of those superstar free agents, and knowing they might not have them in the future was the main reason it felt like this would be the final year for this group of stars to advance to the playoffs and maybe have a chance to reach the Super Bowl.
There is no chance the Vikings will sign all of the starting free agents next season.
And with this year’s schedule being so much more difficult the rest of the way, the chances of this team turning its season around are not very good.
Among the free agents are players who make up the heart of the defense, including linemen Jared Allen (who will make $14.2 million this season), Kevin Williams ($4.9 million), Brian Robison ($4.4 million), Fred Evans ($1.45 million) and Everson Griffen ($630,000), and starting cornerback Chris Cook ($630,000).
Griffen, the fourth-round pick from 2010 who has developed into one of the most versatile players on the defense, being able to play a number of positions, might be in a position to get a fantastic contract because of his great improvement.
The offensive side of the ball isn’t quite as problematic, except for running back Toby Gerhart, who is making $630,000 this season and certainly has been great to have around when Adrian Peterson wasn’t available, and Charlie Johnson, who has developed into an outstanding left guard and is making $2.45 million this year.
The Vikings employ the No. 1 player negotiator in the league in Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski, who has done one fantastic job signing free agents in the past. But he has never had a challenge like this one.
Next season will no doubt be a rebuilding year if a number of key free agents decide to leave the club or the club declines to bring them back.
Vikings look for cure
Following the loss at home to the Browns last week, players were left trying to figure out what the team can do to try and find continued success and turn their season around after their 0-3 start.
“Like I’ve been saying all week, we have to be consistent, and right now we’re a very inconsistent football team,” Allen said. “One good half, one bad half. Our two- minute drill needs to pick up. We need to figure this thing out and we need to figure it out fast.”
Robison said that, while the defense might have forced four turnovers each of the past two weeks, that doesn’t matter going forward. “We’re not playing good enough defense to win ball games and we have to figure it out,” he said. “We can’t rely on breaks. We have to make plays, and right now we’re not making them.”
• With the Vikings playing at the Gophers’ TCF Bank Stadium for the next two years, don’t be surprised if the team decides to play games in London in 2014 and 2015 if Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh at Wembley Stadium is a success for the team and the NFL.
• The Vikings lost four Super Bowls in eight years, to Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland. With the team playing the Steelers it’s a reminder that most of the players who played in all four of those games thought that the Pittsburgh team from 1974 was the best. That team featured stars such as Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene, and in addition the Steelers drafted four players that year who went on to the Hall of Fame: Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.
• Michael Cuddyer will almost surely wrap up his first batting title Sunday for the Colorado Rockies, and in the process become the first former Twins player to achieve that feat after leaving the team. Rod Carew won seven batting titles with the Twins but none with the Angels. Cuddyer entered Saturday trailing only Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera in all of baseball with a .333 batting average. He also had 20 home runs, 84 RBI and 74 runs scored in 129 games.
• It was officially confirmed this week by the Philadelphia Inquirer that former Gophers men’s basketball forward Rodney Williams signed a partly guaranteed multiyear contract to play for the 76ers.
• Former Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker had a slow start for the Broncos but exploded on “Monday Night Football” against the Raiders last week with eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Decker has 19 receptions for 252 yards this season. In other news, Decker and his wife, singer Jessie James, are expecting their first child.