Midseason report: Evaluating Gophers football program a convoluted issue

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 10, 2013 - 6:32 AM

Coach Kill’s health issues overshadow team’s progress.

If one starts with the theory that a college football coach needs five seasons in a new program before a full assessment can be made — long enough for his recruits to establish themselves — then Jerry Kill is right at the midpoint with the Gophers.

He is halfway through his third season at Minnesota, and now there is an elongated pause, with a bye this week, and Kill recuperating from another seizure.

Kill’s health has become the main story line again, and after taking a step forward on the field last year, the Gophers are in danger of taking a step back.

From a won-loss standpoint, this season has mirrored last year’s with a 4-0 nonconference start followed by two deflating Big Ten losses. At this point last year, Kill pulled a potential redshirt from quarterback Philip Nelson and squeaked into a bowl game with victories over Purdue and Illinois.

But the road ahead looks tougher this season. The Gophers could be underdogs in their final six games — at Northwestern, Nebraska, at Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin and at Michigan State. Indiana had seemed to be the most winnable game, but the Hoosiers clobbered Penn State 44-24 last weekend.

With an eye on the big picture — analyzing where the program is now and where it could be by 2015, in Kill’s fifth season — here’s a look at where things stand:

Coaching

Whether the Gophers like it or not, this is the story, especially at a national level. Few are talking about the team’s on-field performance. They’re talking about Kill’s epilepsy because he’s missed parts of four games at Minnesota because of seizures, including two this season.

This still has potential to be a feel-good story, one that transcends sports. According to the National Epilepsy Foundation, 70 percent of epilepsy patients can become seizure-free with the proper medication. Kill is doing everything in his power to make that happen, working with a nationally renowned epileptologist.

While some fans and critics have called for Kill to step aside for health reasons, he has received an outpouring of support. Michigan coach Brady Hoke, for example, spoke about missing Kill on Saturday during the postgame radio show, following his team’s 42-13 victory.

“Jerry’s a dear friend — he and his wife, Rebecca,” Hoke said. “That’s a guy you want coaching your son because he’s such an outstanding man.”

Gophers football practices have been closed all season, and the university had no update on whether Kill returned to practice Wednesday.

Offense

When evaluating the coaching staff this year, however, one can’t help but look at the handling of quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner.

The 23-7 loss to Iowa has been the season’s defining moment, and Kill’s decision to start Nelson in that game — and stick with him for four quarters — didn’t sit well with fans.

Kill was trying to show confidence in Nelson, who had earned the starting job and played reasonably well before injuring his hamstring Sept. 14. Kill picked Leidner as the starter against Michigan, and the redshirt freshman had another strong game, despite two costly turnovers.

Leidner appears to be the guy now. The numbers support the choice. He and Nelson have had similar success rushing (5.0 yards per carry for Leidner, compared to 4.8 for Nelson). But Leidner has separated himself through the air (with a 132.4 passing rating, compared to 97.7 for Nelson).

Overall, it’s a young offense with only two seniors in impact roles — wide receiver Derrick Engel and fullback Mike Henry. But the offense needs to grow fast. Scoring seven and 13 points isn’t a formula to win Big Ten games.

  • related content

  • Hartman: Teague says 'no question' Kill is head coach

    Thursday October 10, 2013

    The Gophers athletic director said the football coach’s job is secure as Kill rests after his most recent seizure.

  • Chart: Comparing 2012, 2013 Gophers football through six games

    Wednesday October 9, 2013

    Last year, this yearThe Gophers’ record this season is identical to last year’s thus far, but the remaining schedule looks...

  • Mitch Leidner seems to be the starter at quarterback now, after the Gophers have scored only 20 points in two Big Ten games.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 1:20 PM
Chicago Cubs - E. Jackson
Boston - A. Webster 6:05 PM
Baltimore - K. Gausman
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - J. Locke
Toronto - M. Buehrle 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - H. Kuroda
Washington - D. Fister 6:10 PM
Miami - T. Koehler
Chicago WSox - J. Quintana 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Hellickson
NY Mets - Z. Wheeler 6:35 PM
Atlanta - J. Teheran
Cleveland - T. Bauer 7:10 PM
Minnesota - P. Hughes
Detroit - J. Verlander 7:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Vargas
Seattle - T. Walker 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Arizona - C. Anderson 7:10 PM
Colorado - J. Lyles
Cincinnati - D. Holmberg 7:15 PM
St. Louis - J. Lackey
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan 8:35 PM
Oakland - J. Lester
Texas - L. Bonilla 9:05 PM
LA Angels - H. Santiago
San Francisco - T. Hudson 9:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Tampa Bay 14 FINAL
Atlanta 56
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
(5) Auburn 20 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 14
Connecticut 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Colorado 9:00 PM
Real Salt Lake
Toronto 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
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.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
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