Gophers Insider: Kill accentuates the positive after U's bowl loss

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 2:19 AM

A late collapse cost the Gophers a bowl victory, but their coach found solace in looking forward.

hide

Rodrick Williams, who scored a touchdown on Friday night, is one of the many Gophers offensive players returning next season.

Photo: Dave Einsel, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

HOUSTON - Say it fast enough, and "Jerry Kill" can sound like "Jekyll." But watch him on the sideline, and the Gophers coach is all Mr. Hyde.

Yet for all the raging and raving the Gophers coach did at the Meineke Car Care Bowl officiating crew Friday night, for as agonizing and pitiless the finish was when Minnesota's lead slipped away, Kill was phlegmatic in discussing the season-ending, 34-31 loss afterward. The impression was clear: Kill badly wanted to win -- but he considered the Gophers winners already.

"You have to understand, after looking at the number of bowl games we have been to at Minnesota, I know where we were when I took the job," Kill said moments after the Gophers were victimized by a last-minute Texas Tech rally. "Where we were a year ago and where we are now, there is no comparison. Coming here and having the opportunity to win, the way we played, there is no question that we are moving forward. ... Even though we didn't win, the game will certainly help us."

Kill's stoic view is that the loss was unfortunate, but merely a missed opportunity to pass another milestone. The real work of building a team that routinely wins postseason games goes on.

Longtime Gophers fans might not be so sure; they have seen collapses like this before. They have watched their team lose five consecutive bowl games now, the past four to Big 12 opponents, and their team has lost more games than it has won in six of the past seven years. A certain it's-always-something hopelessness, reinforced by the Red Raiders' 10-points-in-70-seconds comeback Friday, set in long ago.

But Kill has reasons for optimism, and they go beyond the rejuvenation of the Gophers offense and the gradual improvement of their defense. Healthy and well-prepared, the Gophers played arguably their best game of the year against capable opposition -- and the coming overhaul of their two-deep offers more hope.

Quarterback will be the focus once more, and the Gophers should benefit from the end to the three-man carousel that injuries forced upon them this year. After a valuable, if ultimately painful, night facing a veteran Texas Tech defense, Philip Nelson will return as the prohibitive favorite to run the offense.

"If we ever get in that situation again, we should be able to execute better," said the 19-year-old freshman, who threw a pair of touchdown passes, breaking his three-game streak without one, and ran for 26 yards. Nelson's confidence appeared to grow, and while he overthrew a few receivers and got unlucky on a bad bounce off Derrick Engel's hands that turned into the game-deciding interception, it was an encouraging night. Especially since he sounded intent on rewriting the finish.

"This game is going to put a huge chip on our shoulder," Nelson said. "Guys are already talking about getting into the weight room, getting better for next year."

Nelson will be challenged by Mitch Leidner, another freshman who quarterbacked the scout team this year, and incoming recruit Chris Streveler, a run-pass threat in the mold of some of Kill's great QBs at Northern Illinois. It's a frighteningly young corps, but offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said talent will matter more than experience.

"We've proved that if a freshman comes in and he's the best one, that man will play," Limegrover said. "[Leidner and Nelson] will have gone through two springs, two preseasons and a bowl season by the time we get to next year's opener. I'm excited. We're in good hands moving forward."

They would like to find a few more pass-catching hands, a glaring deficiency this year, though the return to health of Jamel Harbison and Marcus Jones should help. They will try to add a speed back to go with the power running game that Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams showed off in Houston. And the entire offensive line will return intact, and deeper than ever; no players will be lost to graduation, former Ohio State center Brian Bobek will be eligible, and redshirt freshmen Jonah Pirsig and Isaac Hayes will compete for playing time, too.

"It takes a few years to build a line," Limegrover said, "but once you do, it makes everything work better."

Defensively, the Gophers lose much more to graduation, including both starting cornerbacks, a pair of starting linebackers and their best pass-rushing lineman. But Minnesota showed its greater depth in the secondary against the Red Raiders, holding them scoreless for most of the second half. Defensive backs such as Briean Boddy, Jeremy Baltazar and Antonio Johnson appear ready to step in for Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, and the Gophers already have received a commitment for next year from a highly rated junior-college middle linebacker, Damien Wilson of Ellisville, Miss.

"It's always tough to lose a class of seniors, and these guys are special because we asked them to get us pointed in the right direction," Kill said. "Whatever success we have ahead of us, they'll be a part of it. Now it's up to the young guys to keep it going that way."

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com

  • MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL LATE FRIDAY: TEXAS TECH 34, GOPHERS 31

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 12:05 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:05 PM
Atlanta
Miami 12:05 PM
Boston
Minnesota 12:05 PM
Tampa Bay
NY Yankees 12:05 PM
Philadelphia
Baltimore 12:07 PM
Toronto
Detroit 12:10 PM
NY Mets
Cincinnati 2:05 PM
Chicago Cubs
Los Angeles 2:05 PM
Milwaukee
San Francisco 2:05 PM
Texas
Chicago WSox 2:05 PM
San Diego
Kansas City 2:05 PM
Cleveland
Seattle 2:05 PM
Los Angeles
Colorado 2:10 PM
LA Angels
Oakland 2:10 PM
Arizona
Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
NY Yankees
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Sacramento 6:00 PM
Orlando
Utah 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Miami 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Cleveland 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Boston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Detroit 7:00 PM
Houston
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Memphis
Phoenix 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Carolina
Buffalo 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 6:30 PM
Detroit
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Chicago
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 11:00 AM
Char Southern
Ark-Pine Bluff 11:00 AM
Miss Valley St
Southern Ill 12:05 PM
Wichita State
Winthrop 1:00 PM
Radford
Evansville 2:35 PM
Illinois State
Towson 5:00 PM
Elon
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
High Point
Samford 5:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Ball State
Bowling Green 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Brown 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
Toledo 6:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Akron 6:00 PM
Kent State
Ill-Chicago 6:00 PM
Oakland
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Ohio
Columbia 6:00 PM
Penn
Cornell 6:00 PM
Princeton
Central Mich 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Bradley 6:05 PM
Northern Iowa
Morehead State 6:30 PM
Murray State
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 7:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 7:30 PM
Citadel
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Drexel
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 12 1st Half 11:50
(21) George Washington 16
Wake Forest 5 1st Half 11:41
(16) Duke 17
Furman 4 1st Half 12:25
(17) Chattanooga 11
Monmouth 11:00 AM
Quinnipiac
Michigan State 11:30 AM
(4) Maryland
Belmont 12:00 PM
UT Martin
Arkansas 12:00 PM
(3) South Carolina
Mercer 12:30 PM
East Tenn St
Richmond 1:00 PM
Fordham
Miami-Florida 1:00 PM
(2) Notre Dame
Siena 1:30 PM
Iona
Washington St 1:30 PM
(9) Arizona State
Ark-Pine Bluff 1:30 PM
Miss Valley St
(23) Rutgers 1:55 PM
(24) Northwestern
Tennessee St 2:00 PM
SIU-Edwardsville
Loyola Marymount 2:00 PM
Gonzaga
(18) Texas A&M 2:25 PM
LSU
Cincinnati 3:00 PM
UCF
Saint Josephs 3:30 PM
Dayton
UCLA 4:00 PM
(19) Stanford
Santa Clara 4:30 PM
San Diego
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
(7) Florida State
SMU 5:00 PM
Memphis
Lehigh 5:05 PM
Holy Cross
Rhode Island 6:00 PM
Duquesne
North Florida 6:00 PM
(20) Fla Gulf Coast
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Stetson
Nebraska 6:00 PM
(14) Iowa
Saint Peters 6:00 PM
Marist
Navy 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Lafayette 6:00 PM
American Univ
Colgate 6:00 PM
Army
Georgia 6:00 PM
(5) Tennessee
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
Brown
Penn 6:00 PM
Columbia
(13) Princeton 6:00 PM
Cornell
Kansas 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Harvard 6:00 PM
Yale
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
San Jose St 7:00 PM
UNLV
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California
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: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close