After false hope, U must face reality

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2011 - 1:05 AM

The performance of this team hasn't been a surprise to new coach Jerry Kill, who predicted an up-and-down season.

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Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray evaded NDSU’s Bryan Shepherd but only managed to rush for 23 yards in the game.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Yes, this Gophers football team gave people some false hope when it outplayed one of the more ordinary Southern California teams in several years.

Then the Gophers lost to a perennial loser in New Mexico State that hasn't won a game since. More false hope came last week when the Gophers beat a Miami (Ohio) team that is 0-3 and struggling after being favored for the Mid-American Conference title.

Then the roof finally caved in Saturday night when the Gophers got embarrassed by North Dakota State 37-24. The Bison outplayed the Maroon and Gold to a degree that they hadn't seen this year.

The performance of this team hasn't been a surprise to new coach Jerry Kill, who predicted an up-and-down season.

A year ago the team had a top-notch quarterback in Adam Weber, who, together with some players of Big Ten ability who were recruited by former coach Glen Mason, got two victories at the end of the season over Illinois and Iowa.

Well, the nucleus of that team -- a few of those players are on NFL rosters -- is gone and this team wasn't going to show any consistency with the few good football players recruited by former coach Tim Brewster who are now seniors.

One of the biggest problems is that this team doesn't have an established quarterback. MarQueis Gray is playing the position exclusively for the first time in three years, and the alternate is freshman Max Shortell.

Gray, who rushed for 171 yards last week against Miami (Ohio), ran for only 23 Saturday.

Mason's viewpoint

Mason, who knows as much about this Gophers program as anybody, talked after the game about how he visited with Kill on Friday.

Mason said Kill talked about "in trying to get this program where he wants it, it's baby steps. Last week they took some baby steps forward, they took some steps back today. I think he would admit that."

"I think everybody knew that coming in," Mason said. "You don't hire a coach and think that a new guy is going to come in and all of a sudden be gangbusters. It's a process. He and his staff have their own system. Let's face it, I think ... the great recruits that were coming to Minnesota [under Brewster] probably weren't as good as advertised."

The Gophers face Michigan this week. Yes, this team has to play before 117,000 fans. And if you can't beat North Dakota State at home, can you imagine what is going to happen at Ann Arbor?

Longwell still confident

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, who before the season predicted the team would be a contender for the NFC North title, hasn't changed his mind. He looks back to his 2000 season with the Packers, when they started the year 2-4 but ended up going 9-7 and just missing the playoffs.

"That was just a team that was a lot younger and kept fighting," Longwell said. "That's what I see in these guys, that these guys want to win, they want to work hard, and we're all trying to find something that we can do to get us over the edge and help us get a win.

"I think you have to take it as a positive that the right pieces are in place to perform like we did in the first halves [of both games] and we just have to execute in the second half, offense, defense and special teams. There are plays to be made from all of us, and we've all looked at them and realized when it comes your chance to make a play, you have to make a play. We're all going to have a chance to do it."

Longwell says winning comes down to execution.

"Teams can adjust and do what they want, but if we execute our offense, defense and special teams the way we're capable of, then we should be fine. But we need to execute when our number is called."

Longwell still believes the Vikings will turn their season around.

"Without question we have the right guys and the right chemistry," he said. "These are the guys you want in a situation like this. When the chips are down you want good, quality, hard-working guys, and that's what we have."

Former Gophers making an impact

Eric Decker already has surpassed his 2010 receiving statistics in only two games for the Denver Broncos. Decker has eight receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns, all new career highs, and also is dating country music star Jessie James.

Former Gophers linebacker Nate Triplett is back with the Indianapolis Colts, signing last week and playing in Sunday's home loss to the Cleveland Browns because Gary Brackett and Ernie Sims were injured and couldn't play. Triplett, a fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2010, figures to get a chance to play because Brackett (shoulder) and Sims (knee) might be out a few weeks. Triplett played in the final five games of last season for the Colts after they signed him off the Chargers practice squad, but Indianapolis cut him at the end of training camp.

It must say something about the ability of former Gophers receiver Logan Payne that the Jets have kept him on their active roster even though he is only their fifth receiver and is expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after suffering a preseason wrist injury that required surgery. Payne, whose only NFL game action is two games with the Seahawks in 2008, is valued by the Jets for his special teams contributions.

Dominique Barber is in his fourth season with the Texans as a backup safety and special teams player, and he hopes to have better luck with his health this year than the past two. The former Gophers player went on injured reserve in December 2009 because of a hamstring injury, then missed the final eight games last season after tearing cartilage in his knee in practice.

Sid's jottings
• The Timberwolves will officially announce the hiring of Rick Adelman as the team’s coach at a news conference Wednesday at Target Center.

 It was former Gophers football coach John Gutekunst who gave current Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz his second graduate assistant coaching job at Minnesota in 1990, after Schwartz has worked one year at Maryland after playing four years of football at Georgetown. Gutekunst, now defensive backs coach at Columbia under ex-Gopher Norries Wilson, said he recognized how smart a football mind Schwartz had at the time and knew he was going to be a successful head coach.

• Not since 1991 have the Lions defeated the Vikings and Packers on the road in the same season, something they have a chance to do this year.

• Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is now writing for Grantland.com, Bill Simmons’ sports and pop culture website, which is affiliated with ESPN. Love wrote his first article Friday, discussing his recent trip to China and his volleyball playing in the offseason. Love will be posting on the website throughout the NBA lockout.

• Despite one of the worst seasons in team history, the Twins’ season attendance is now at 3,062,544, making it the third time in team history they have eclipsed 3 million in attendance. They rank fourth in attendance in major league baseball with an average of 39,263 people per game. Only the Phillies, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants rank higher.

• Ex-Vikings defensive lineman Pat Williams is talking to the Colts and Titans and hopes to sign with one of them soon. The Vikings don’t have any interest in bringing Williams back.

• Twins manager Ron Gardenhire believes a season of winter ball will help Alexi Casilla become the regular second baseman for the Twins next season.

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