Coming into the Gophers' first home game, there was so much excitement surrounding the program. We just came off of a very respectable loss at USC, and saw a lot of potential in a number of players. Coach Kill embraced the game day experience and actually got the University to close down Oak Street for what he intended to be the biggest party in Minnesota. It ended up being a sunny, beautiful, hot day - and I know that we had been planning our tailgate for weeks, as many were looking forward to this day. When I left the tailgate lot just to get inside in time for kickoff, the Ski-U-Mah lot was still packed. I was one of the first ones to leave to head over to the Bank. By the time many of my friends got into the game, the Gophers were already down by 7 points. That wasn't exactly the way you want to open up at home, to the New Mexico State Aggies. The majority of Gopher fans thought it would be a blow out, and with their recent track record, it should have been.
There were a number of things that went wrong today, and the first was losing to New Mexico State. Even if you don't look at the USC loss as a moral victory, it was at the least, a respectable loss. The Aggies were one of the 5 worst teams in college football last year, and the Gophers were favored to win this game by a landslide. It also seems like the quarterback controversy is not solved. Gray struggled in the first half, and was then sidelined in the beginning of the second half. There was actually a large crowd applause when it was announced that Max Shortell was going in. During his first play, he ran for 22 yards, and it seemed like he was going to be finishing up the game. He then proceeded to go 2-7 (many of those passes were great, and it was the fault of the receivers that they didn't catch them), and was taken out of the game. Gray went back into the game, and did a good job leading his team. There's no question, that Gray seems to be our most talented athlete, but he may not be a quarterback. Max Shortell is a quarterback. I actually get excited at the idea of McKnight and Gray being Shortell's receivers. That is certainly a position where we are lacking, and without McKnight's 146 yards out of the total 238 receiving yards, we would have been lost. Add another option to the team by putting our best athlete in Gray out there, and you've got two great options. I would also love to see Gray go to the next level, and I see him being able to do that as a receiver, not as a quarterback.
Obviously, the part of the day that went the most wrong was when Coach Kill suffered a seizure on the sidelines. I have to say, I've never quite experienced the emotions I felt this afternoon, and I'm sure most of the fans at the game share my sentiments. Although my seats are across from the Gopher sidelines, none of us could tell exactly who went down at first. I thought it could have been one of the assistant coaches, and when I realized it was Coach Kill, my stomach just tied up in knots. There was absolute silence at TCF Bank Stadium, you'd never imagine a group of 40,000 people could be so quiet. I remember even being able to hear the EMT's walkie-talkie from the 2nd deck. Personally, I was thinking - how much more can one man go through? He's already won the battle with cancer, he's an inspiration to all of us, and now this? I was actually relieved to find out it was a seizure, because from the reactions of the players and other coaches, I thought it could have much worse, like a heart attack.
Of course losing to New Mexico State stinks, ok, it sucks. I am guessing that Coach Kill finds this loss more unacceptable than any of us could. There's really no reason to harp on this, as it's done. Many have compared it to Brewster's loss against South Dakota last year. And yes, it is probably a worse loss on the books than that - however, this is Coach Kill's second game, not his fourth year. People gave Brewster a lot of leeway when he went 1-11 his first year, and he inherited a team that went to a bowl game the previous year. Coach Kill inherited a team that won 3 games last year.
I wish Coach Kill a speedy recovery, and hope that he takes care of himself and his health first and foremost. I have a very good feeling he will have no problem of taking care of the football team. It may not be this year, but in the long-term. This week was the opposite of a moral victory, I think morale is very low. Not just because we lost a game, but because we all feared losing our leader, Coach Kill.