Rachel Blount: There's more to be learned for Gophers

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2012 - 8:10 AM

Iowa's easy victory revealed something about that 4-0 start, but how the Gophers react will tell the tale most clearly.

hide

Iowa players carried Floyd of Rosedale off the Kinnick Stadium field Saturday, reacquiring the trophy after a two-year absence.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

IOWA CITY - Well, at least no one can say they hadn't been warned.

During each week of the Gophers' 4-0 start to the season, Jerry Kill had been tempering the fans' urge to view those early victories as any kind of grand statement. "I think we've moved forward for the period of time that we've been here," the coach said Tuesday. "But with that being said, we're nowhere close to where we need to be. Nowhere close."

The Gophers proved that Saturday with a dismal performance at Iowa. All the things that had gone their way in the first four games -- their stout defense, their ability to force turnovers, their much-improved passing game -- disappeared in a 31-13 loss. The reverse happened for the Hawkeyes, who quieted their restless fan base for at least a week by dominating in a rivalry game seven days after an unthinkable home loss to Central Michigan.

For those of little faith, it will be tempting to write off the Gophers as the rodents of old. Perhaps those first four games were a mirage, an illusion destined to disappear once the piñatas on the schedule were replaced with superior competition.

But Kill was right about not reading too much into the Gophers' early success, and the theory is just as valid now that the other cleat has dropped. To know who the Gophers truly are, we need to see how they take a hard punch, one that came with the additional dismay of a pig-napping. Floyd might have been lost after his two-year residency in Minnesota, but the Gophers still have the chance to gain something from their somber Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

"It hurts," safety Brock Vereen said. "It's supposed to hurt. But we're going to bounce back. We're going to get focused on Northwestern and get this thing going in the right direction.

"We learned a lot of lessons out there today. That will linger with us for a little bit, and eventually it will turn to motivation."

Kill spoke after the game about his team's youth, a theme he returns to frequently. He noted there were only nine seniors in uniform Saturday, and that the Gophers have been compromised by injuries.

It's a safe bet that when he views the game film, he will come down a lot harder on his team's mistakes than he did in his news conference. The Gophers put little pressure on Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, who had been struggling mightily this season. For much of the game, they failed to contain a Hawkeyes receiving corps that had dropped plenty of balls in the previous four games. Gophers quarterback Max Shortell was distressingly inaccurate, and the offensive line created too little room for Donnell Kirkwood.

Their tackling was particularly atrocious. Iowa running back Mark Weisman -- a walk-on transfer from Air Force -- hit the 100-yard mark on the Hawkeyes' fourth drive of the game, with back-to-back carries for 27 and 44 yards. On each of those runs, the Gophers let him get out of their grasps, something that happened time and again Saturday. For Division I players who have been tackling since Pop Warner days, that's not a function of youth. It stems from a lack of focus, and no one had an explanation for it.

The game might have given a dose of karmic comeuppance to Gophers fans. As much as they enjoyed the early success, many were equally gleeful over Iowa's ineptitude, chortling over the Hawkeyes' last-minute loss to Central Michigan that left them 2-2 entering Saturday.

Some of Iowa's spoiled fans were calling for coach Kirk Ferentz to be fired. That would be an expensive proposition; the Des Moines Register reported that Ferentz, making $4 million a year on a contract that runs through the 2020 season, would be owed $25 million if he were given the boot. His team showed Saturday that things might not be quite as bad as they seemed.

And the Gophers proved just the opposite. They did improve in the second half, holding Iowa to 49 yards. Afterward, they said all the right things, vowing to use the bye week to solve the problems they encountered at Iowa. "They'll find out who's really, really invested and really understands how to fight back," Kill said. "I think we'll bounce back."

It's impossible to predict whether they can. Their woeful history might inspire pessimism. Their steady improvement under Kill gives some reason for optimism. One thing, though, is certain: How the Gophers respond will say much more about them than their 4-0 start.

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Minnesota 59 3rd Qtr
Philadelphia 61
Houston 46 2nd Qtr 6:38
Boston 33
Portland 39 2nd Qtr 8:18
Atlanta 36
Sacramento 24 2nd Qtr 8:50
Cleveland 35
Toronto 33 2nd Qtr 8:59
Brooklyn 34
Dallas 0 1st Qtr 10:10
Miami 5
LA Clippers 4 1st Qtr 9:40
New Orleans 4
Golden State 8:00 PM
Utah
Chicago 9:30 PM
Phoenix
Pittsburgh 0 2nd Prd 12:36
New Jersey 0
St. Louis 2 2nd Prd 11:14
Carolina 1
Nashville 8:00 PM
Colorado
Buffalo 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Chicago 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Harvard 75 FINAL
Princeton 72
Quinnipiac 30 2nd Half 17:21
Canisius 35
Brown 39 2nd Half 11:20
Cornell 40
Siena 48 2nd Half 15:47
Manhattan 51
Marist 31 2nd Half 15:57
Niagara 31
Dartmouth 21 2nd Half 15:28
Penn 33
Oregon 8 1st Half 15:27
Arizona State 9
Yale 2 1st Half 15:39
Columbia 9
Monmouth 8 1st Half 14:41
Fairfield 10
IUPUI 4 1st Half 15:38
Western Ill 4
Oregon State 9:00 PM
Arizona
Kent State 9:00 PM
Buffalo
Canisius 75 FINAL
Monmouth 58
Butler 45 2nd Half 14:04
Providence 34
Cornell 41 2nd Half 13:33
Brown 32
Columbia 30 2nd Half 11:11
Yale 38
Coll of Charleston 31 2nd Half 11:59
Drexel 43
Penn 35 2nd Half 13:44
Dartmouth 22
Elon 26 2nd Half 18:04
James Madison 46
(19) Princeton 46 2nd Half 17:18
Harvard 30
(9) Florida State 49 2nd Half 15:25
Georgia Tech 34
Quinnipiac 45 2nd Half 15:01
Siena 41
Richmond 39 2nd Half 13:25
Rhode Island 32
Loyola-Chicago 36 2nd Half 18:13
Southern Ill 30
Georgetown 7:00 PM
DePaul
Villanova 7:00 PM
Marquette
Wichita State 7:00 PM
Northern Iowa
Missouri State 7:05 PM
Drake
Xavier 2 1st Half 16:03
Creighton 8
Bradley 4 1st Half 17:32
Illinois State 6
Arizona 8:00 PM
Utah
(11) Arizona State 8:00 PM
Colorado
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which of these teams is the most frustrating to watch right now?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close