A double setback as U loses, coach stricken

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2012 - 7:22 AM

The Gophers' sloppy start led to a loss, and coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized afterward following another seizure.

It had been nearly a year since Jerry Kill suffered a seizure after a Gophers football game, the last one occurring on a plane ride home from Chicago following a loss at Northwestern last November.

By coincidence, both happened again on Saturday. Northwestern frustrated Kill's mistake-prone team, 21-13 in TCF Bank Stadium, but the defeat was immediately overshadowed by the coach's medical condition. Kill was stricken in the coaches' locker room shortly after finishing a round of postgame interviews, the university announced, and he was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Kill was alert and resting comfortably, the university said, but no other information about his condition will be released until Sunday.

Kill has a history of seizures dating back more than a decade. He collapsed on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of his first home game as Gophers coach, against New Mexico State in September 2011. He was hospitalized for several days following that incident, and suffered several recurrences in the days immediately afterward, eventually admitting himself to Mayo Clinic for treatment.

A combination of medication and changes to his routine brought his condition under control, Kill said, and he had only one other incident during the season -- a minor seizure that lasted only a couple of seconds on the Gophers' charter flight from Chicago.

The 51-year-old coach said in July that he was in his best health in several years, and had reported no relapses. But Saturday's loss was a particularly stressful one for Kill and the Gophers, considering how many mistakes the football team made against a beatable yet bowl-bound Northwestern team. At one point, Kill grew livid at officials for calling an illegal-substitution penalty, and the red-faced coach angrily berated the official for nearly a minute while standing on the Gophers' sideline.

He couldn't have been much happier with his error-prone team, starting with the opening kickoff, which bounced off linebacker Lamonte Edwards' chest. Northwestern recovered, and the Wildcats needed only one play -- a 26-yard burst up the middle by tailback Venric Mark -- to convert it into a 7-0 lead 11 seconds into the game.

"That certainly was not a good tone to set," Kill said. "We had two turnovers, they scored 14 points, so that's the game."

It didn't need to be, but the Gophers offense and defense took turns looking inept. The Gophers rebounded from the Wildcats' quick score with a 75-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by MarQueis Gray's first appearance since Sept. 15 -- and his first reception, a 16-yard completion from Max Shortell, since the 2010 season. Then Gray took over as quarterback when Shortell suffered a minor injury, and led a 75-yard drive that finished with his own 25-yard romp to the end zone.

Trouble is, the Gophers defense was being shredded by Mark, who racked up 151 rushing yards before halftime. He got outside and up the sideline for a 47-yard gain to set up a short touchdown plunge by Kain Colter, and a 48-yard dash, untouched into the end zone, for his second score the day.

"It's very frustrating," linebacker Keanon Cooper said. "The worst loss is when it's because of yourself."

That's how this one felt, and it might have hurt a little more than the defeat at Iowa two weeks earlier because of how little competence it would have taken to extend their TCF Bank Stadium winning streak to five. The Gophers defense, as it did at Iowa, greatly improved as the game wore on; the Wildcats gained only 77 yards after halftime, went 1-for-10 on third and fourth down and punted away their final six possessions, including all five in the second half.

But in a light but steady drizzle, the Gophers offense fizzled like a campfire in the rain, and the team couldn't figure out why.

"I think last year, we kind of accepted the fact that weren't good," said Max Shortell, whose 9-for-19 passing performance was the worst of his three starts this season. "But this year, we know we can make a difference. We've just got to get back on track, give ourselves confidence again. Because we are a good team, and we have to trust in that."

Trust was in as short supply as sunshine, no matter who quarterbacked. Gray was 7-for-11 in his first game back and picked up another 86 yards on the ground, but threw a pass into triple coverage that was easily intercepted. Gray suffered another ankle sprain late in the third quarter, leaving Shortell to try to move the team once more.

The sophomore drove the Gophers to the Wildcats 4 with five minutes to play, but a fumbled snap, an underthrown a pass to the end zone that caused A.J. Barker to slip and a fourth-down fade pass that sailed high over Andre McDonald left the Gophers upset with themselves once more.

  • NORTHWESTERN 21, GOPHERS 13 Up next: 11 a.m. Saturday at Wisconsin • Camp Randall Stadium • TV: ESPNU
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