Joe Christensen's Gophers Insider: Texas Bowl loss has silver lining

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 29, 2013 - 8:38 AM

Overachieving underclassmen should give Gophers a solid nucleus for next season.

hide

The Gophers left the field disappointed after a 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl but have improved each year under Jerry Kill.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– Who says lower-tier bowl games serve no purpose?

The Gophers’ 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl on Friday was played before a crowd so small, it felt like the Prep Bowl inside Reliant Stadium.

For football fans who made the trip from Minnesota and those watching on TV, the game played out like the Frustration and Agony Bowl, sponsored by Are You Serious?

But it addressed three key questions facing the team:

• When will Jerry Kill return to the sideline?

The answer arrived after halftime, when the head coach came down from the press box, hoping to rally his troops. Kill had coached exclusively from the press box for the previous six games, even after resuming all of his old duties following a two-week leave to treat his epilepsy.

Kill’s health has improved since he missed the Oct. 5 game at Michigan because of a seizure, and this was one way to prove it publicly heading into the offseason. That should only help recruiting.

• Is Philip Nelson entrenched as the starting quarterback?

No. This game definitely reopened that discussion, as Nelson completed only two of seven passes, short-hopping some and overthrowing others.

As planned, the Gophers let Nelson handle the first two drives, with Mitch Leidner taking the next two. There have been games when the offense moved better with Nelson, but this time it moved much better with Leidner.

Leidner tossed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to give the Gophers a 17-14 lead.

“Mitch played an outstanding game,” Kill said. “He played his guts out, played hard, gave us a chance to win and did a great job for a redshirt freshman.”

Kill has been effusive with his praise for Nelson after other games. He seemingly has no favorite. Making one of these two quarterbacks the undisputed starter might help him settle in and relax, but Nelson and Leidner are too close in caliber — and both too inconsistent — to crown only one of them king.

Competition makes teams better. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has said every job is open heading into the offseason, and that includes quarterback.

“All winter long, all spring long, leading into summer camp, it’s all competition,” Leidner said. “We’re going to compete every day, and whatever happens, happens. We both want to play, and we both want to lead this team to a Big Ten championship, whatever it takes.”

• Is the team positioned to win next year?

They’re moving to the Big Ten West, along with Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue. Their two crossover games, from the East Division, are against Ohio State and Michigan.

This could make it tough to continue the program’s upward trajectory under Kill — from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 in his first three years. The Gophers were picked to finish last in the Legends Division this year but started 8-2 before losing their final three games to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Syracuse.

  • related content

  • Reusse blog: A fan can't justify this Gophers loss

    Saturday December 28, 2013

    The Gophers now have a six-game losing streak in bowl games. And Jerry Kill now has an 0-5 postseason record as an FBS coach.

  • Chart: Gophers football schedule for 2014

    Saturday December 28, 2013

    Gophers 2014 scheduleAug 28 Eastern IllinoisSept. 6 Middle Tennessee StateSept. 13 at Texas ChristianSept. 20 San Jose StateSept. 27 at MichiganOct. 11 NorthwesternOct. 18 PurdueOct. 25 at IllinoisNov....

  • Replay: Syracuse 21, Gophers 17

    Saturday December 28, 2013

    Gophers replaySyracuse 21, Gophers 17The recap: Two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Mitch Leidner gave the Gophers a 17-14 lead, but...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Washington - D. Fister 12:10 PM
NY Mets - D. Gee
Philadelphia - S. Gonzalez 12:10 PM
Miami - J. Cosart
Toronto - D. Hutchison 12:10 PM
Cleveland - T. Bauer
Cincinnati - J. Cueto 12:35 PM
Atlanta - J. Teheran
Tampa Bay - N. Karns 12:35 PM
Baltimore - W. Chen
Chicago WSox - J. Danks 1:10 PM
Minnesota - M. Pelfrey
Detroit - A. Sanchez 1:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Seattle - J. Happ 1:10 PM
Houston - R. Hernandez
Pittsburgh - V. Worley 1:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Wacha
Milwaukee - J. Nelson 1:20 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Hammel
Oakland - S. Gray 2:05 PM
Texas - Y. Gallardo
LA Angels - J. Weaver 3:05 PM
San Francisco - T. Lincecum
Colorado - K. Kendrick 3:10 PM
San Diego - J. Shields
Arizona - C. Anderson 3:10 PM
Los Angeles - B. Anderson
NY Yankees - A. Warren 7:05 PM
Boston - J. Kelly
Washington 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Memphis 2:30 PM
Golden State
Tampa Bay 5:00 PM
Montreal
Minnesota 7:30 PM
Chicago
Calgary 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Chicago 4:00 PM
Sporting Kansas City
Seattle 6:00 PM
New York City
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: Does it bother you that Tyus Jones chose Duke over Minnesota?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close