Hartman: Turnovers are again costly for U in defeat

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 9:49 PM
Two weeks ago, four turnovers did in the Gophers in a loss at Iowa. This week, that trend continued with two game-deciding turnovers resulting in touchdowns in Saturday's 21-13 loss to Northwestern at TCF Bank Stadium.

There were seven fumbles overall by the Gophers. They only lost two, but one of the costliest fumbles was recovered by the Gophers -- Max Shortell lost 2 yards after fumbling on second-and-goal from the Wildcats 2-yard line late in the game with the Gophers needing a touchdown to tie.

More important than the outcome of the game, it was very difficult to hear that later on Saturday, Gophers coach Jerry Kill suffered another recurrence of his seizures. Thankfully he was resting comfortably at a local hospital.

"When you turn the ball over and they score both times off the turnovers, that's the ballgame," Kill said in the postgame news conference, talking about the fumble on the opening kickoff that set up the first Wildcats touchdown and the interception that resulted in another Northwestern score the following quarter.

"We talk about that all the time. Got to take care of the football and make good decisions, and we turned it over and they capitalized. You have to give them credit for doing that. That's how they won. That's kind of what they've done. If you make a mistake they make you pay for it. They've been very good at it, not just this year but in years in the past."

MarQueis Gray rushed nine times for 86 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run, and completed seven of 11 passes for 66 yards and the one interception mentioned earlier. But he was reinjured in the third quarter and had to leave the game.

"We had a good package for [Gray] at quarterback and receiver," Kill said. "He was able to play effectively; he did play effectively until he got hurt."

It's no secret the Gophers aren't going to win many conference games without a healthy Gray. They likely would have won both the Iowa and Northwestern games had he been able to start and play four quarters. Without Gray, they might go 0-8 in the Big Ten.

Kill praised the defense, and it deserved it. As they did in the Iowa game last week, the Gophers shut the Wildcats down in the second half. Northwestern running back Venric Mark, who was credited with 151 rushing yards in the first half, gained only 31 in the second.

New system works

Brendan Daly, the first-year Vikings defensive line coach, returned to the team this year after spending the past three with the Rams. Early on, Daly heard early complaints from Jared Allen and other starting defensive linemen about Daly's system of occasionally resting starters such as Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison and letting backups play a few downs.

The system will get another good test on the road Sunday because if the Vikings are to beat Washington, they will have to find a way to control Robert Griffin III, a quarterback who moves all over the field.

Daly -- who took over for the fired Karl Dunbar, now the defensive line coach for the Jets -- deserves credit for the improvement of the defensive line this season to the point where the Vikings defense ranks ninth overall. He has the backing of coach Leslie Frazier to continue his substitution patterns.

"They're guys that are fresh guys that understand what we are doing that are playing their tails off for us," said Daly, who was a Vikings assistant defensive line coach from 2006 to '08 before going to St. Louis. "So our goal is to keep those [starters] that are our bell-cows fresh late in the game, late in the season, so that when we need them in crunch time, they're able to deliver for us."

Regarding the reserves, Daly said: "Everson Griffen is a guy that's in there regularly for us at this point. Christian Ballard is coming in and playing a good number of snaps. D'Aundre Reed has played some snaps for us. Fred Evans has been in there.

"We're dressing eight guys, and all eight guys are ending up in the game in some capacity."

About Allen and his desire to be on the field all the time, Daly said of last year's NFL sacks leader: "He's a competitor and he wants to be on the field every snap. I respect that and I love that about him.

"You know what they say, in some instances you have to protect players from themselves, and it may be a little bit of that with [Allen]. But you certainly love his competitive nature and desire to be in there."

Speaking on the overall performance of the defensive line, Daly said: "We don't have many sacks [nine] and we've had some good rushes and left some plays out on the field in terms of sacks. I'm really more concerned with how our overall defense is playing. In some of these third-down situations and two-minute [drills] we have to be better. That includes the defensive line and everybody."

If the Vikings can win, the schedule is in their favor to beat the Cardinals and the Buccaneers at home in the next two games before going on the road again at Seattle. They could easily be 7-1, shocking almost everybody.

SID'S JOTTINGS

• Look for an agreement to be signed in the near future between the University of Minnesota and the Vikings for the use of TCF Bank Stadium during construction of the new Vikings stadium. Expect a ceiling of the Vikings paying $3 million a year -- $250,000 per game -- for use of TCF, including expenditures of some $2 million by the Vikings to install a new turf field and electric warming cables underneath it to operate during all kinds of inclement weather. The Vikings will also install about 3,000 new seats in the open end at their expense and also will pay for winterizing the stadium, which is not normally used once the Gophers season is over.

• Jared Allen, appearing on an NFL Network radio broadcast, was asked if the Vikings are being taken as a serious contender to win the NFC North. "We don't need all of the hype," he said. "We had all of the hype in 2009 and 2010 and it got us only to the NFC Championship Game. ... I like being the underdog, starting under the radar. We will keep sneaking up on people one game at a time."

• New Mexico State, where former Gophers athletic director McKinley Boston has been the AD since December 2004, will replace North Carolina in a series of home-and-home football games on the Gophers schedule. The first game will be at New Mexico State next year. The Aggies won at TCF Bank Stadium 28-21 last year. The Gophers have also added Kent State and South Dakota State to future schedules, and it's official now that for the next four years they will open the season at home on a Thursday night.

• Look for two former Vikings in the Washington secondary: Madieu Williams is starting at free safety and has 30 tackles. Cornerback Cedric Griffin is a reserve but is recovering from a hamstring injury that might keep him out; he didn't dress the past two games.

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    Saturday October 13, 2012

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