Sid Hartman: At least Gophers' play improved in second half

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 9:58 PM

The Gophers fell behind 24-0 but looked like a better team after halftime.

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Standout Iowa running back Mark Weisman tried to escape Gophers safety Derrick Wells on this second-half play Saturday in Iowa City. Weisman rushed for 177 yards against the Gophers, but only 22 came after halftime.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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If you are looking for positives from the Gophers' 31-13 loss to Iowa on Saturday, look at how they came back to play well in the second half after the Hawkeyes jumped out to a 24-0 first-half lead.

The Gophers outscored the Hawkeyes 13-7 in the second half. That lone Iowa touchdown came on an a 68-yard interception return by linebacker Christian Kirksey with 5 minutes, 15 seconds to play.

And Mark Weisman, the outstanding Hawkeyes running back who rushed for 155 yards in the first half, was held to only 22 in the second.

Interestingly, the Gophers and the Hawkeyes ended the game with the same number of first downs, 15 apiece. But the Gophers had just three in the first half and 12 in the second. Iowa had the reverse: 12 in the first half, three in the second.

The Gophers remain a good, young football team that will get better as the season develops and will win some games.

However, for some reason, the Gophers offense wasn't ready to play early in this game. Iowa got the ball first and drove six plays for 49 yards before getting a 44-yard field goal.

When the Gophers got possession, there was a badly handled kickoff return and an interception by Tanner Miller, which led to an 8-yard Iowa touchdown run by Weisman to cap a 21-yard drive.

From there, the Hawkeyes continued to take advantage of the Gophers' misplays and completely dominated the first half. It was the first game of the season where the Gophers lost the battle at the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively, and that is where this game was lost.

You knew Iowa would be ready to play after losing at home to Central Michigan last week 32-31 on a final-play field goal.

Against the Gophers, Iowa finished with 182 yards rushing, almost all of it by Weisman, who evaded one defensive player after another in one of the poorer tackling jobs this Gophers team has had.

The Gophers rushed for 102 yards, most of it in the fourth quarter, with quarterback Max Shortell being the leader with 46 yards. Donnell Kirkwood, who came into the day averaging 90.3 rushing yards per game for the Gophers, was held to 33 yards on 12 carries.

"We didn't have any momentum in the first half; they had it all and kept it," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said after the game.

"Once we settled down, we played better, but they had [24] points on the board."

The Gophers did go in with a lot of players banged up, and the upcoming bye week will give them a chance to heal for the homecoming game against Northwestern. The Wildcats are 5-0, but they have had their problems defensively and let a poor Indiana team score 29 points against them Saturday.

This Gophers team will still win some games the rest of the way, with the Big Ten as down as it appears to be.

Simpson expects to produce

If the Vikings are to beat the Lions, they will need some help from receiver Jerome Simpson, who is eligible to play after missing the first three games because of a suspension related to a drug arrest.

Simpson wasn't allowed to practice with the team during the first three weeks of the season, but he said: "I think I'm in shape. I'm an athletic guy and I train hard, so I don't think it will be too bad for me just getting back in the groove of everything."

Simpson said he has been catching balls on his own using a machine that simulates a QB's throw.

"I have been doing things to try and keep me in football mode," he said. "It's still different from going out there on the field and running it with a real quarterback and a defender trying to guard you.

"I still need to improve, but I felt really good out there [in practice this week]. I credit the strength and conditioning team here, too, because I really didn't feel winded in anything."

Simpson did get to go to the meetings during his suspension and watched all of the game film, so he felt like he was involved in game-planning even though he wasn't able to play.

A real threat last year with the Bengals when he caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns, Simpson, who spend four years with Cincinnati, was a free agent after the season and drew interest from several teams despite his personal problems and the NFL suspension that teams knew was coming.

Simpson, 26, said he believes the three-game suspension was fair. "It's over with now. I'm just glad it's over with and I can move on with my life without having anything else hanging over my head," he said.

Changes coming at Target Field

The Twins, set to play their final home game of the 2012 season Sunday, will soon announce a modification to the right-field bleachers seating section at Target Field. The section currently features a number of obstructed seats that will be removed.

On Oct. 14, the Twins baseball operation group will gather in Fort Myers, Fla., to discuss the future of the struggling major league squad, a squad that has lost 92 games with four to go this season after losing 99 games in 2011.

Jottings

• It turned out that Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley and team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were able to work out a bid price of $34 million with the HKS firm that designed Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — the stadium the Vikings want their own modeled after. Populous, the firm that designed Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and Xcel Energy Center, came with the highest bid of the five finalists at $54 million.

• If Shaun Hill ends up starting for the Lions, it will be familiar territory for a quarterback signed as an undrafted free agent by the Vikings in 2002. The last time that Hill made a start was the Lions’ 2010 season finale against the Vikings in Detroit. The Lions won that game 20-13 and Hill went 28-of-39 for 258 yards with a touchdown.

• Among top NHL people attending the funeral of Michael Nanne, son of Lou, were former North Stars owner Gordon Gund and his wife, Lulie.

• Retired Twins President Jerry Bell has been asked to chair the city of Minneapolis’ implementation committee for the renovation of Target Center.

• The past two 20-game winners for the New York Mets are both former Twins, but oddly enough neither is two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. R.A. Dickey won his 20th game Thursday and is a favorite to win the NL Cy Young. The previous Met to win 20 was Frank Viola in 1990.

• Former Gophers winger Ken Gernander was recently named to the AHL Hall of Fame. Gernander served as captain for the Rangers’ top AHL affiliate — in Binghamton, N.Y. (1994-97) and Hartford, Conn. (1997-2005) — for 10 seasons. He ended his 14-season playing career in 2005 with the most points (624) of any American-born player in AHL history. But he only played in 12 NHL games — 10 in 1995-96 and two in 2003-04.
 

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