Miller: Gophers coach's party line remains tempered

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2012 - 11:27 AM

Jerry Kill refuses to hype a flawed 4-1 team, to the chagrin of success-starved football fans.

hide

It was back to work for Gophers coach Jerry Kill after watching his team lose badly at Iowa. “We’re still trying to figure out who we are as a team,” he said.

Photo: Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The problem with enjoying a little success in a win-starved environment is that everyone wants so badly for it to be permanent. Maybe that's why Jerry Kill sounded so annoyed during the Gophers' bye week.

"I don't have a crystal ball, and I don't control time," the Gophers football coach said when asked, essentially, whether his team's 4-1 start to his second season had made him optimistic about the program's immediate future. "I just keep grinding, keep working, doing what we're doing, and let the chips fall where they may."

Not exactly selling bowl tickets yet, is he? It's difficult to fault Kill for his cautious approach, though, especially coming off a deflating 31-13 loss to Iowa on Sept. 29. But even if the Gophers had remained unbeaten, heading into the resumption of the season Saturday against Northwestern, it's unlikely that the coach's compass would be pointing in any other direction.

Within the Gophers football program, the slogan for this season is "Uncommon," a one-word representation of what Kill expects of his players. But the coach's favorite buzzword when dealing with his team's uncommonly skeptical and wary fanbase is a more pragmatic one: "Young."

"I keep saying the same thing -- we're a very young team. Very young," Kill said. "We took eight seniors to Iowa [actually 11, but still an unusually small number for a BCS-level program], and we're still trying to figure out who we are as a team."

That's an ongoing process, one that becomes more essential as the Big Ten season unfolds. The league appears weaker overall than it has in a few seasons, and the Gophers do not face Ohio State, the only Big Ten team ranked in the Associated Press' top 20 teams. So the opportunity to win a few league games -- they haven't managed more than three conference victories since 2005 -- is undeniable.

And the Gophers have begun to answer the questions that appeared most pressing before the season, mostly in a positive way. As the Gophers gear up for their seven-week stretch to the finish, let's review how those August concerns have shaken out:

1.Are there any game-changing playmakers alongside quarterback MarQueis Gray?

The Gophers haven't found a bust-out star, someone ready to step forward as an all-conference type of playmaker. There are medical reasons for the freshman-year fizzles of receivers Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald. But the cast-of-thousands approach is working at receiver, with 10 players catching passes at Iowa. Walk-on A.J. Barker has established himself as the most effective pass-catcher, and depth has not been a problem.

In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood has shouldered the load in the rushing game, and while he would like to improve his per-carry average of 4.2 yards, the Gophers appear more than comfortable with the sophomore carrying the ball. "Donnell's done a very good job," Kill said, and even his season-low output of 33 yards at Iowa "had to do with the blocking up front, not Donnell."

2. How much of the load can, and will, Gray carry?

OK, this one has been a problem. Gray's hoped-for improvement as a passer was only marginal in the season's first two games, victories over UNLV and New Hampshire. Then he sprained his left leg and ankle, removing the Gophers' most versatile weapon from the offense.

Sophomore backup Max Shortell has done a creditable job while Gray heals, but the Gophers offense is showing the effects of its leader's absence. And even if he is cleared to play this week, how long will it take for Gray to get comfortable in the offense again?

3. Can the defense create more pressure on opposing offenses?

The pass rush has been one of the season's biggest improvements, and it's made the Gophers, through five games, one of only four Big Ten teams holding opponents below 200 passing yards a game. Last year's Gophers recorded only 19 sacks; this year's defense has collected 11 already, and senior defensive end D.L. Wilhite ranks second in the conference with 4 1/2 sacks.

4. Is the defense strong enough up the middle?

This might be the biggest surprise, considering both starting safeties and the middle linebacker were learning new positions, while the defensive tackles were becoming starters for the first time. But Cedric Thompson and Derrick Wells have thrived in the secondary. Wells, a former cornerback, leads the team in tackles, while linebacker Mike Rallis moved into the middle with little trouble.

The defense had some breakdowns trying to stop Iowa running back Mark Weisman, a bad omen with players such as Kain Colter, Montee Ball, Denard Robinson and Rex Burkhead coming up in the next seven weeks, but there's no doubt the Gophers defense has improved this season.

5. Will punting be fixed?

Christian Eldred, an Australian still learning the game, has taken over the job and while not spectacular, has at least added consistency to a position that has long plagued the Gophers.

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Colorado 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Carolina
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Montreal
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 30 2nd Half 9:41
Rice 59
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Canisius
Temple 6:00 PM
Delaware
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Richmond
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Stetson
Yale 6:00 PM
Vermont
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Virginia
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Rider
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Bradley
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Charlotte
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Duke
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 61 2nd Half 0:25
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 38 2nd Half 18:05
Marquette 50
Temple 4:00 PM
Howard
Southern Miss 4:00 PM
Ole Miss
UMBC 4:00 PM
Rider
Miami-Florida 5:00 PM
UCLA
St Mary-KS 5:00 PM
South Dakota
William & Mary 5:00 PM
Wofford
Troy 5:30 PM
Evansville
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
USC
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Radford
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Samford 7:00 PM
Tulane
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close