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

San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 7 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 1
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 85 FINAL
Miami 90
Indiana 89 FINAL
Minnesota 107
Utah 105 FINAL
Oklahoma City 91
Portland 93 FINAL
Denver 75
Phoenix 114 FINAL
LA Lakers 108
LA Clippers 107 FINAL
Golden State 125
San Jose 3 FINAL
Boston 5
NY Rangers 4 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 3
Toronto 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Detroit 1 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 2
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 4
Carolina 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Dallas 6
Florida 4 FINAL(OT)
Colorado 3
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(OT)
Calgary 1
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent 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 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close