Jerry Kill knows skepticism over his team and his coaching is rising, and a 25-point loss to Wisconsin didn't help. He just endured one of the most difficult weeks of his coaching career, one that began in the hospital and became consumed by a barrage of public criticism over future schedules.
But the Gophers' coach said he will spend this week keeping his players' spirits up, and rousing them not to give up on the season, because Minnesota's three-game losing streak doesn't reflect the progress he sees.
"There are some good things going on here," Kill said Sunday. "You've just got to really look hard at it right now."
Among them is the promise of his freshman quarterback, Philip Nelson, who handled everything the veteran Badgers threw at him defensively. There were mistakes, Kill said, but Nelson remained confident and poised throughout the game.
He'll start again Saturday against Purdue, and MarQueis Gray will line up at wide receiver. Gray can run straight ahead, Kill said, but his left legs remains to sore to stop and start quickly; his burst off the line of scrimmage is missing. The Gophers plan to utilize the senior at quarterback, but probably not for a few weeks, until he returns to complete health.
Health is a goal for the entire offense, actually. Kill said Isaac Fruechte and Devin Crawford-Tufts didn't play because both are recovering from concussions, and Fruechte caught the flu as well. Ed Olson was too injured to practice last week, and neither he nor his brother Tommy played in Madison. Zac Epping's hand is too sore to snap the ball, so he moved over to guard, and Zach Mottla, also recovering from an ankle injury, played through pain. And tailback Donnell Kirkwood missed a day of practice with an ankle injury, which helped limit him to just five carries.
They aren't completely healthy on defense, either. Safety Derrick Wells played with stitches in his knee, an injury that kept him out of practice, and he needed new stitches after the game. Tackle Cam Botticelli is playing with a sore elbow as well.
"I've taken some heat on the scheduling, but it's kind of the same thing -- we played four games, we're 4-0, and we're beat up going into the Big Ten," Kill said. "We're just a young group of guys."