What the Gophers need to improve in 2012

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2011 - 12:53 AM

Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray (5) ran away from Illinois tacklers.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


Two months ago, the junior quarterback's future at the position was in serious doubt, after coaches yanked him in favor of freshman Max Shortell down the stretch of a loss to North Dakota State. He regained his status but still entered Saturday's finale in danger of becoming the first Gophers starter since Marquel Fleetwood in 1992 to complete fewer than half his passes. But Gray's steady improvement, and particularly over a three-game stretch against Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan State, has cemented his hold on the job. Now he gets nine months to review and relearn the playbook with the benefit of a season's worth of full-speed experience. His ability to find receivers downfield may be the most important improvement the 2012 Gophers can make.


Duane Bennett enjoyed the best season of his career, and it's a good thing: The Gophers essentially played all season without a backup tailback. Since conference play started, no back but Bennett has more than Donnell Kirkwood's 80 total yards. Not only is there no obvious heir, there is no front-runner for the job. "It means we're definitely going to have some competition, and that's good. It brings out the best in everybody," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "When you have an heir apparent, sometimes the other guys don't work as hard." Kirkwood and fellow freshmen David Cobb and Devon Wright will face competition from incoming freshmen Rodrick Williams and juco transfer James Gillum.


Jerry Kill said he likes to build around fast players, but he didn't find many already here. The 2011 Gophers may have been the slowest squad he's ever coached, and it got slower when freshman receiver Marcus Jones' season was short-circuited by a knee injury. The lack of quickness especially hurt in the secondary, where the Gophers allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.7 percent of their passes, and in rushing, where the Gophers have now gone more than three seasons without breaking a 40-yard run. Freshman receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts has flashed game-changing speed, but the Gophers need many more like him.


It was defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys' biggest project before the season, and he made only incremental progress; the Gophers won't rank 120th in sacks this season, merely 105th (entering Saturday). But as the dismal completion percentage demonstrates, Minnesota's toothless pass rush remains a major weakness that infects the rest of the defense -- and next year, the Gophers won't have veteran tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey in the middle of the line to occupy blockers. Their freshman defensive ends should improve as they add muscle, but the Gophers' best hope may be that Ra'Shede Hageman becomes a consistent disruptive force who demands double-teams. Of course, they've been saying that for two years.


Saturday's widespread no-shows offer a preview of what the Gophers will face in TCF Bank Stadium next fall if the football team continues merely to take "baby steps," as Kill likes to say. Victories are the ultimate ticket promotion, but if the Gophers are still a year or two away from Legends Division contention, they'll have to find a way to sell tickets for a home schedule that lacks Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State or a major nonconference draw. Those tickets, after all, fund more than just football for Minnesota's cash-conscious athletic department.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Arrieta 2 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: D. Axelrod 7
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 2 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 3
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 4
Tampa Bay - LP: K. Yates 4 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 5
Atlanta - WP: M. Minor 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 1
Cleveland - WP: C. Carrasco 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks 2
Minnesota - WP: A. Swarzak 11 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: B. Chen 5
Texas - LP: R. Mendez 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 4
Oakland 3 Bottom 10th Inning
LA Angels 3
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 4th Qtr 7:33
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pm
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question