University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has been unequivocal with his support for Gophers football coach Jerry Kill through his battle with epilepsy, and that faith has been rewarded.
Kill, who began a leave of absence to treat his disease on Oct. 10, coached from the booth for the fourth consecutive game Saturday as the Gophers defeated Penn State 24-10 at TCF Bank Stadium.
With defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys again serving as acting head coach on the sideline, the Gophers stretched their winning streak to four games. After going 3-9 and 6-7 in Kill’s first two seasons, the Gophers are 8-2.
“We’re fortunate that we’re winning under these conditions [with Kill’s health], but even if we weren’t, I know we’ve made the right decision about how to let Jerry get back on his feet,” Kaler said. “And I’m glad he’s making progress, and I’m very glad the team’s making progress, and I’m glad there’s this excitement in the community about Gophers football again.”
Kaler and athletic director Norwood Teague have left it up to Kill as to how much of his coaching duties to handle during his treatment process. Kill, 52, has been at every practice for the past three weeks and continues to take on more of his old duties.
“I don’t think we really had any other choice [but to leave these decisions to Kill],” Kaler said. “I had a lot of people in my ear saying, ‘Well, we should fire him. He can’t do his job, etc.’ That’s nonsense.
“We’re going to be compassionate. We’re going to be smart about how to let Jerry get back to full strength. And we’re really blessed to have a coaching staff. When we hired Jerry, we didn’t just hire Jerry Kill and Rebecca [Kill], who’s fabulous. We hired a team of coaches, and that team is absolutely delivering for us.”
No quarterback shuffle
Philip Nelson started at quarterback and played the entire game for the first time since the Gophers’ Sept. 28 loss against Iowa. Mitch Leidner, who has started four games at quarterback this year, didn’t see any action.
Nelson suffered a hip pointer last week at Indiana, and Kill said the concern was that Nelson’s hip might stiffen up if he spent too much time watching from the sidelines.
Nelson completed 15 of 24 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, and he added 12 carries for 40 yards.
“Mitch didn’t play today, but that kid’s as happy as anybody in the locker room,” Kill said. “That’s what’s neat about our kids right now.”
Offensive line changes
After losing starting center Jon Christenson for the season because of a broken left leg last week at Indiana, the Gophers also played Saturday’s game without starting right guard Caleb Bak because of a concussion.
Tommy Olson subbed for Christenson at center, and Foster Bush got his first career start at right guard. The Gophers didn’t seem to miss a beat, rushing 46 times for 195 yards, with 139 of those yards coming from David Cobb.