Last year when the Gophers football team blew a seven-point lead with 70 seconds to play against Texas Tech in its bowl game in Houston, coach Jerry Kill was very positive despite the loss when talking about the performance of his team.
Kill predicted the Gophers would be much improved in 2013 because of the chance to get the 15 extra days of practice before the bowl game and the opportunity to play in the postseason.
Well, Kill was right, as this year’s Gophers went 8-4 in the regular season and got a chance to play in another bowl game.
I believe the opportunity to play in back-to-back bowl games will have another positive effect on how the Gophers do next season. The 2014 team could even improve on this one, which went 4-4 in the Big Ten after going 2-6 a year ago.
However, one thing has to change for the Gophers to make the next step: They are going to have to find a way to score more touchdowns. They went 13 quarters without an offensive touchdown before scoring two in the fourth quarter Friday to take the lead against Syracuse.
Unfortunately for them, for the second year in a row they couldn’t hang on to a late lead, this time giving up the go-ahead touchdown with 74 seconds remaining in a 21-17 loss to the Orange.
Another positive for the future is Kill’s health. He felt good enough Friday to come down on the field for the second half after spending the first half coaching from the press box. His presence on the sideline certainly had a positive effect on his players after halftime.
“I felt I would do anything to help,” Kill said. “I’m not sure it helped or not. Evidently it didn’t help because we didn’t win the game.”
Freshman receiver Drew Wolitarsky was confident Kill’s presence on the sidelines did help.
“I think the whole team got pumped up when he made the announcement [at halftime],” said Wolitarsky, who was wide open for a go-ahead 55-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Leidner in the fourth quarter. “Coming into halftime, I felt that everybody was a little flat and he gave us that spark, which is another reason why we came out and started executing better.”
Freshmen make difference
The several freshmen who got the advantage of the extra practice time and the chance to play in the Texas Bowl will be much better players next year because of it.
It was heartbreaking to lose the game to Syracuse after losing another lead like that, but players such as Wolitarsky, quarterback Mitch Leidner and tight end Maxx Williams will certainly be better players because of the experience they gained playing in the bowl game.
Leidner had 13 carries for 24 yards, although those totals include the four times he was sacked for 33 yards in losses. Take away those and he ran nine times for 58 yards. He also completed 11 of 22 passes for 205 yards.
Williams caught five passes for 76 yards and one touchdown. And Wolitarsky caught four passes for 94 yards and the one long touchdown, and he nearly came up with a winning Hail Mary in the final seconds.
And the Santa Clarita, Calif., native also had a first-half touchdown called back because of a very questionable offensive interference call. The Gophers ended up settling for a field goal before the half instead because of the penalty.
Yes, the officiating didn’t help. Another big penalty that came back to bite was the personal foul on right tackle Josh Campion after a 15-yard gain by David Cobb with a little more than three minutes to go. The penalty wiped out the yards and also stopped the clock, giving Syracuse a chance for the 70-yard punt return that set up the winning touchdown.
The Vikings were 12-4 in 2009 and came within a couple of plays of making it to the Super Bowl.
The following season Brad Childress was fired after 10 games with a 3-7 record, and Leslie Frazier replaced him, going 3-3 the rest of the way to keep the job for 2011 and beyond.
Frazier went 3-13 in 2011, which proved that firing Childress wasn’t the reason for the Vikings’ woes.
Frazier bounced back the following season, with a good draft being a big reason that the team went 10-6, earning a wild-card spot by winning its final four regular-season games before a playoff loss at Green Bay.
Well everything went wrong for Frazier and the Vikings this year, with a number of key injuries and four losses coming by a total of 12 points. That doesn’t include the tie at Green Bay where the Vikings blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Frazier, who has a year left on his contract, is the same coach this season as he was a year ago. The only difference is that this year the Vikings are 4-10-1 after last year’s 10-6 playoff team.
If the Vikings give Frazier an opportunity to coach in 2014, perhaps with some changes on the defensive staff, he probably would turn things around next season, but only if a number of the key free agents are re-signed.
Like Bud Grant has said many times: Players win. Coaches coach.
• There is no truth to the rumor that the Vikings have refused to pay for the electric heating system that is to be installed beneath the field at TCF Bank Stadium during the two years they play on campus. The only question is what type will be installed in time for the 2014 season.
• It’s too bad the two biggest stars for each team won’t be playing in the Vikings-Lions Metrodome finale. Not only is Adrian Peterson out for the home team, but star Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, who always has been a problem for the Vikings secondary, is expected to miss the game because of a knee problem.
• Former Gophers football coach John Gutekunst, who coached inside linebackers for North Carolina A&T this past year, said he predicted a great future in coaching for Lions coach Jim Schwartz when Schwartz was a Gophers graduate assistant in 1990. Schwartz, whose Lions teams have lost 10 consecutive December and January games, has two years left on his contract, and if the Lions fire him he will receive a buyout of more than $12 million, according to ESPN.
• One reason the Vikings should beat the Lions is that the Lions are minus-14 in turnover margin, ranking 29th in the NFL.
• Former Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker, who is having another fantastic year catching passes from Peyton Manning with the Broncos, can be a free agent at the end of this season and could wind up with Denver’s franchise tag, meaning a guaranteed contract of about $11.5 million for 2014. Decker has 83 receptions for 1,261 yards and 10 touchdowns, including seven TDs in December.
• George McDonald, a former member of Tim Brewster’s Gophers coaching staff, is the offensive coordinator for Syracuse and worked in the press box calling the plays for the team that beat the Gophers in the Texas Bowl on Friday.
• The Gophers had 3,375 fans travel to the Texas Bowl while Syracuse had 700.
• The North Carolina football team that received $800,000 from the Gophers to be removed from the 2013 schedule played in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., where the Tar Heels beat Cincinnati 39-17.