Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Kill reflects on bowl decisions, Leidner, future expectations

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: January 5, 2015 - 11:52 AM

Jerry Kill had some free time Saturday morning as he recharged in Florida after the Citrus Bowl so he gave me about 30 minutes for a phone conversation.

We talked about a number of topics. I was critical of Kill’s conservative approach in the final minute before halftime in a 33-17 loss to Missouri so our conversation started with his decision-making in that situation.

Kill wasn’t angry or testy, but he elaborated on why he elected to run out the clock rather than attempt to try and get points with his team trailing 10-7.

“I’ve been doing it for 31 years and I’ve been on two sides of that,” he said. “We’ve done something like that [try and score] and the ball went the other way and it cost us the game. On the other side of it, we’ve done it and been successful. …

“In my opinion, there are times to roll the dice. We had control. We had the ball 19 minutes to their 11 [in time of possession]. They were not dominating us. I felt like we could get right back out and score and be smart.”

Kill said he wasn’t worried about Mitch Leidner throwing as interception as much as he was Leidner getting sacked and possibly fumbling the ball deep in their territory. Leidner lost one fumble on a sack in the first quarter. He lost another fumble in the second half.

Kill said he had a lot of respect for Missouri’s defensive ends, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. In studying the Tigers on film and talking to coaches who have faced them or scouted them, the coaching staff was concerned about taking shots down the field because it would force Leidner to hang onto the ball.

“We did some things protection-wise to help us,” Kill said. “You don’t want to hold onto the ball against those guys. Well, in the situation that we were in, you’re going to have to hold onto the ball because they knew you were going to throw it. …

“When you’re in that two-minute deal, you’ve got to go down the field even with the timeouts we had. It was more about them and us being in control the game. Even though we were down, I felt as a head coach, I felt good. I felt we controlled the game in the first half. …

“If we wouldn’t have turned it over on a sack [earlier] … in a coach’s mind, that plays into it because [what] if that happens again. If we do that and the ball gets knocked out, people are going to go, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.”

I still would have preferred Kill take a more aggressive approach in that situation, but I appreciated hearing his explanation and philosophy in more detail.

Kill and his wife Rebecca stayed in Florida for a few days to re-energize before jumping back into the recruiting cycle.

I asked Kill about his expectation for Leidner next season:

Kill: “He’s just like me. I’ve got to take the one step better as a coach and he’s got to continue to grow and take the next step. He’s got to do what [Michigan State’s] Connor Cook did.”

I asked Kill if there’s a chance that redshirt freshman Jacques Perra could challenge Leidner for the job next season.

Kill: “You know what, come back and ask me – a lot of people forget about [Chris] Streveler too – but come back and ask me that question before we start spring. I need to see the offseason. But it will be hard because I think Mitch is going to take that next stride.

“I understand, it’s like people talk about me making decisions. I get that. But I would just tell you that I’ll know a lot more about everything in the spring. But I anticipate that Mitch -- certainly in the bowl game on a big stage, I thought he did a good job. I know what he can do. He’s just got to continue to work.”

I asked Kill if he has an idea of what running back Jeff Jones might bring to the offense. Jones sat out this season to focus on his grade.

Kill: “I know there’s not many athletes that are like that. He is a very, very gifted athlete. We’ll just have a lot more skill players and he’s one of them.

“Isaiah Gentry is 6-4, 205 and has got unbelievable speed. The two guys that people forgot about is Desmond Gant. He is a big, strong, fast kid. Then, Melvin Holland. All three of those kids have got talent out the tail end.

“All of those guys can really, really run. We have not had that since I’ve been here on the offensive side of the ball.”

Finally, I asked Kill about how expectations will be different for his team next season. The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West Division by writers before this season. They will be expected to contend for the division title in preseason opinions.

Kill: “That’s a good thing. If there’s no expectations, that means you’re probably going to get fired. You’re not moving the program forward. I actually think that’s good for our program and it will be good going into the offseason. It’s going to be different. But Minnesota has waited a long time for it to be different.”

Gophers only have themselves to blame

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: January 1, 2015 - 3:10 PM

ORLANDO -- The Gophers played their first New Year's Day bowl game in 53 years and they didn't handle the stage very well at all.

The Gophers made numerous self-inflicted mistakes and kept tripping over themselves in a 33-17 loss to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.

The Gophers showed improvement this season, but they should fume over this missed opportunity.

They lost three fumbles, including two by quarterback Mitch Leidner. They muffed a punt that gave Missouri great field position.

They had an unnecessary roughing the passer penalty that helped set up a Missouri touchdown.

They allowed MU to convert a faked punt and an onside kick to start the second half.

Jerry Kill played things too conservatively at the end of the first half after his offense got the ball at their 25 with 1:04 left and all three timeouts. Kill ran out the clock, even after his team moved the ball to their 41 with about 20 seconds left.

The Gophers didn't run another play. The Gophers were supposed to get the ball to start the second half but Missouri perfectly executed an onside kick.

It was just a sloppy, disappointing performance for the Gophers.

Gophers finally get attractive bowl game destination

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: December 7, 2014 - 3:58 PM

The proliferation of bowl games makes it feel like every team in college football gets a chance to play in one. That's not the case, of course, but there are so many bowl games these days that it doesn't always feel like a reward for a good season.

The Gophers are being rewarded for a good season.

The Gophers will finally play in a New Year's Day game, their first since 1962. They reportedly will play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1.

This represents another positive step for Jerry Kill and his program.

The Gophers have earned bowl trips in the past decade, but they've always been lower-tier bowl games. Nothing that really excites the fan base or inspires large number of fans to travel.

This is an attractive bowl game, a good opportunity for a program that's building something. A New Year's Day game in Florida against a team that played in the SEC Championship game.

This game will give Kill's program more national exposure and provides more evidence that the Gophers are trending in the right direction.


 

Ohio State in; let the complaining begin

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: December 7, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Let the complaining begin.

The College Football Playoff field is set and Ohio State secured that final spot ahead of TCU and Baylor in the selection committee’s final rankings.

Alabama got the No. 1 seed and will play the Buckeyes in one semifinal. No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State meet in the other semifinal.

Three one-loss teams had legitimate cases for the final spot, but the committee went with an Ohio State team that won the Big Ten Championship in impressive fashion by smashing Wisconsin 59-0.

TCU held the No. 3 spot in the committee’s previous rankings, but the Horned Frogs fell to No. 6 despite defeating Iowa State 55-3.

Baylor defeated Kansas State in its final game and defeated TCU in their head-to-head meeting. The Bears couldn’t crack the committee’s top four. The Big 12 does not have a championship game, which would have help their cause.

Like many others, I thought Ohio State would get that final spot after its performance in the conference title game behind No. 3 quarterback Cardale Jones.

Conspiracy theorists will claim that the committee gave the nod to Ohio State because of the school’s name brand and national appeal. No doubt that TV executives will love an Alabama-Ohio State semifinal game.

It’s a bitter pill for TCU to swallow falling three spots despite winning by 52 points.

But until the playoff is expanded to eight teams, this kind of controversy was inevitable. Five power conferences and only four playoff berths guaranteed that.

Picking college football playoff field difficult task

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: December 7, 2014 - 6:41 AM

Where have you gone BCS?

We miss you. Actually not really, but imagine being a member of the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee?

Sleep well, folks?

The committee has the unenviable task of picking four teams Sunday for college football’s debut playoff, and I keep coming back to one thought:

Why can’t it be an eight-team playoff?

That makes far more sense and would avoid the difficult scenario the committee faces in whittling the field to four.

The top three seeds are easy: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State. The committee might not pick them in that order, but those three teams are locks.

The discussion becomes messy with the final pick. Three teams are worthy: TCU, Ohio State and Baylor. All three finished the season with one loss. All three have a solid case. Two will be left out.

TCU was third in the committee’s most recent rankings and smashed Iowa State 55-3. Ohio State stunned Wisconsin 59-0 with a third-string quarterback. Baylor handled No. 9 Kansas State 38-27.

I turned myself into a mental pretzel trying to decide on the fourth playoff team.

Baylor beat TCU head-to-head after trailing by 21 points, but the Bears lost at West Virginia. TCU won at West Virginia and beat the Gophers in non-conference.

Ohio State’s only loss came against Virginia Tech at home in Week 2 but that was J.T. Barrett’s second start in place of injured starter Braxton Miller. This is a different team now. I thought the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes were lost with Barrett’s injury but No. 3 quarterback Cardale Jones was brilliant in the Big Ten title game.

TCU has the “best” loss so to speak. Baylor won the head-to-head. Ohio State looks fabulous.

I saw TCU and Ohio State in person and came away extremely impressed with both. I honestly can’t sit here and say definitely which team is better. They’re both very good. So is Baylor.

So what to do? The problem is, there is no wrong answer. Every argument is strong. I can argue the merits of all three teams.

But only four teams get in, so this is how I think the things will look when the committee releases its playoff rankings on Sunday.

  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State

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