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:
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.
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.
The Gophers are banged up on defense, especially in the secondary, and this is catching up to them. Through six games last year, they had the Big Ten’s second-ranked pass defense, allowing 162.5 yards per game. This year, they rank 10th in that category at 255.5 yards per game.
Part of it has been the lack of a pass rush. Even with NFL prospect Ra’Shede Hageman at defensive tackle, the Gophers have managed only seven sacks, compared to 11 at this time last year.
The bye week came at a key time for the secondary. Safeties Cedric Thompson (concussion symptoms) and Brock Vereen (knee), and cornerbacks Martez Shabazz (shoulder) and Derrick Wells (shoulder) will get an extra week to heal.
They’ll need it because the next three opponents — Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana — rank among the Big Ten’s top four teams in scoring offense.
Special teams, etc.
Kill often says a team needs to win two of three facets — offense, defense or special teams — to be successful. The Gophers have been good on special teams this year, with return man Marcus Jones becoming a difference-maker.
The Gophers are the least-penalized team in the Big Ten and they have only seven turnovers this year, compared to 12 last year.
Kill’s recruiting classes have ranked toward the bottom of the conference, but this coaching staff can cite several players — including Leidner, Wells, Thompson, defensive end Theiren Cockran and cornerback Eric Murray — who’ve outperformed their rankings.
Tim Brewster’s program lost scholarships because of academics. Under Kill, the team has posted its best Academic Progress Rate (994 for the 2011-12 school year) in the program’s history.
Those close to the program can see the foundation improving. But it’ll be hard selling that to the public if the Gophers go 0-6 or 1-5 in their last six games.
Joe Christensen • email@example.com
|Minnesota||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Kansas City||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Buffalo||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Miami||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Detroit||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
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|Cleveland||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Oakland||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||12/8/13 12:00 PM|
|Tennessee||12/8/13 3:05 PM|
|St. Louis||12/8/13 3:25 PM|
|Seattle||12/8/13 3:25 PM|
|NY Giants||12/8/13 3:25 PM|
|Carolina||12/8/13 7:30 PM|
|Dallas||12/9/13 7:40 PM|
|San Diego||12/12/13 7:25 PM|
|LA Clippers||6:30 PM|
|Golden State||7:00 PM|
|Philadelphia||1||2nd Prd 12:24|
|New Jersey||6:30 PM|
|NY Islanders||9:30 PM|
|SE Missouri St||74||FINAL|
|North Dakota St||66||FINAL|
|Harvard||78||1st OT 0:43|
|BYU||67||2nd Half 7:16|
|Brown||46||2nd Half 14:31|
|NC Central||33||2nd Half 13:56|
|East Tenn St||28||2nd Half 16:33|
|Eastern Mich||31||2nd Half 16:40|
|Clemson||36||2nd Half 16:07|
|Alabama State||47||2nd Half 14:34|
|Bowling Green||33||2nd Half 19:30|
|UMass Lowell||27||2nd Half 10:27|
|Richmond||39||2nd Half 16:20|
|Loyola-Maryland||33||2nd Half 15:40|
|Mount St Marys||39|
|Long Beach State||49||2nd Half 12:27|
|Lafayette||60||2nd Half 12:19|
|UMBC||33||2nd Half 12:46|
|Akron||51||2nd Half 12:40|
|St Bonaventure||41||2nd Half 18:40|
|William & Mary||40||2nd Half 12:58|
|Miami-Ohio||32||2nd Half 15:19|
|Gardner-Webb||35||2nd Half 20:00|
|New Orleans||6||1st Half 13:56|
|Jackson State||17||1st Half 11:41|
|Jacksonville||5||1st Half 14:03|
|St Francis-NY||10||1st Half 13:56|
|Denver||9||1st Half 15:01|
|Wisc-Parkside||6||1st Half 15:29|
|St Francis-PA||3:00 PM|
|Fla Gulf Coast||3:00 PM|
|Tennessee St||3:00 PM|
|Coppin State||3:00 PM|
|Eastern Ky||3:00 PM|
|Georgia State||3:00 PM|
|NC A&T||3:00 PM|
|Western Ky||3:05 PM|
|New Hampshire||3:30 PM|
|Central Conn St||3:30 PM|
|Miss Valley St|
|Fresno State||4:00 PM|
|Western Mich||4:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||5:00 PM|
|Florida A&M||5:00 PM|
|Iowa State||5:00 PM|
|San Jose St||5:00 PM|
|South Alabama||5:00 PM|
|North Dakota||5:00 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|UNC Greensboro||6:00 PM|
|Holy Cross||6:00 PM|
|North Florida||6:30 PM|
|Oral Roberts||7:00 PM|
|Central Mich||7:00 PM|
|Grace Bible||7:00 PM|
|TX-San Antonio||7:00 PM|
|Southern U||7:00 PM|
|Indiana State||7:00 PM|
|Saint Louis||7:05 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|St Katherine||8:00 PM|
|Utah Valley U|
|Walla Walla||8:05 PM|
|Sacramento St||8:05 PM|
|James Madison||8:15 PM|
|Stephen F Austin|
|Santa Clara||9:00 PM|
|Washington St||9:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||10:00 PM|
|(16) Northern Ill||27|
|(18) Oklahoma||20||4th Qtr 3:20|
|(6) Oklahoma State||17|
|Marshall||24||4th Qtr 0:00|
|Memphis||3||3rd Qtr 6:55|
|(23) Texas||2:30 PM|
|(5) Missouri||3:00 PM|
|So Florida||6:30 PM|
|(7) Stanford||6:45 PM|
|(11) Arizona State|
|(20) Duke||7:00 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|(2) Ohio State||7:17 PM|
|(10) Michigan State|
|Utah State||9:00 PM|
|(24) Fresno State|
|Army||12/14/13 2:00 PM|
|Real Salt Lake||3:00 PM|
|Sporting Kansas City|
|Long Beach St||72|
|(4) Notre Dame||90|
|Miss Valley St||59||FINAL|
|Davis & Elkins||0||Postponed|
|South Dakota St||66||FINAL|
|Sacred Heart||47||2nd Half 0:09|
|VA of Lynchburg||20||2nd Half 17:00|
|George Mason||42||2nd Half 12:30|
|Towson||43||2nd Half 17:34|
|NJIT||31||2nd Half 10:11|
|Michigan State||41||2nd Half 12:37|
|UNC-Wilmington||31||2nd Half 13:32|
|Saint Josephs||41||2nd Half 11:30|
|Maine||49||2nd Half 8:06|
|New Hampshire||45||2nd Half 7:36|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||21||2nd Half 17:57|
|UMass Lowell||41||2nd Half 18:11|
|USC Upstate||24||2nd Half 17:17|
|Coppin State||47||2nd Half 15:54|
|Chicago State||50||2nd Half 11:27|
|Buffalo||43||2nd Half 13:15|
|Robert Morris||36||2nd Half 15:48|
|Western Ky||39||2nd Half 14:14|
|Bryant||38||2nd Half 15:40|
|Army||51||2nd Half 11:27|
|Radford||23||2nd Half 12:49|
|New Orleans||35||2nd Half 9:23|
|St Bonaventure||35||2nd Half 13:26|
|VA Commonwealth||56||2nd Half 11:27|
|Tenn Tech||22||2nd Half 15:30|
|Saint Louis||9||1st Half 14:28|
|Grambling||5||1st Half 13:14|
|Idaho State||13||1st Half 12:40|
|BYU||0||1st Half 20:00|
|No Dakota State|
|Utah Valley U||3:00 PM|
|Florida A&M||3:00 PM|
|Nebraska Omaha||3:00 PM|
|Mount St Marys|
|Alabama A&M||3:30 PM|
|San Jose St||4:00 PM|
|Northern Ariz||4:00 PM|
|SE Missouri St||4:30 PM|
|Austin Peay||6:00 PM|
|Wright State||6:00 PM|
|MD-Eastern Shore||6:00 PM|
|South Dakota||6:00 PM|
|SD Mines & Tech|
|(23) Texas A&M|
|Appalachian St||7:00 PM|
|Alabama State||7:00 PM|
|Northwestern St||7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||8:00 PM|