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.

Defense

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 • jchristensen@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - D. Hutchison 12:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Tanaka
Washington - S. Strasburg 12:10 PM
Miami - N. Eovaldi
NY Mets - J. deGrom 12:35 PM
Atlanta - E. Santana
Boston - J. Kelly 12:35 PM
Baltimore - M. Gonzalez
Milwaukee - W. Peralta 12:35 PM
Pittsburgh - V. Worley
Chicago WSox - J. Danks 12:40 PM
Tampa Bay - N. Karns
Cleveland - C. Kluber 1:10 PM
Minnesota - A. Swarzak
Detroit - R. Porcello 1:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Seattle - H. Iwakuma 1:10 PM
Houston - C. McHugh
Los Angeles - J. Wright 1:20 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner
Texas - N. Tepesch 2:35 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Philadelphia - A. Burnett 3:05 PM
Oakland - S. Kazmir
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong 3:10 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Arizona - W. Miley 3:10 PM
Colorado - C. Bergman
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 12:30 PM
Carolina
Buffalo 4:00 PM
Washington
St. Louis 5:30 PM
Columbus
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
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
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 2:00 PM
Toronto FC
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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.X24-7
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