Two college coaches with Gophers ties, Kevin Sumlin and Tony Levine, have been following the performance of Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, whom they coached for four seasons at the University for Houston. Both believe Keenum, who is likely to face the Bears in Chicago on Monday, can do the job for the Purple if Sam Bradford remains out because of a knee injury.
Keenum admitted he made a crucial mistake late in the Vikings’ 14-7 loss to Detroit on Sunday, when he changed to the wrong pass protection on third-and-goal at the Lions 3-yard line and took a sack. But he did a fantastic job against Tampa Bay in Week 3 when he threw for 369 yards and three scores.
If the Vikings hadn’t fumbled three times and the receivers hadn’t dropped several of Keenum’s passes right in their hands, they no doubt would have beaten the Lions.
Keenum played as well as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: He completed 16 of 30 passes for 219 yards, while Stafford completed 19 of 31 for 209 yards.
Overall, Keenum has played well in his three starts, completing 61 of 100 passes for 755 yards with three TDs and no interceptions, and compiling a strong 94.4 passer rating. That mark ties him with Seattle’s Russell Wilson for 11th best in the league.
But here’s the bigger point: Unless a miracle happens and Bradford is ready to play again soon, Keenum is going to be the Vikings quarterback for the long haul. And while Keenum had a spotty record before joining the Vikings when he started for the Texans and Rams, going 9-15, those teams didn’t have the talent of this Vikings squad. Their overall record during Keenum’s tenure was 22-42.
Levine, now co-offensive coordinator at Purdue, and Sumlin, now head coach at Texas A&M, have a long history together. When Levine was a walk-on for the Gophers from 1992-1995, he was coached by Sumlin, the wide receivers coach at the time. Levine eventually rejoined Sumlin, who had become Houston’s head coach, as his special teams coordinator in 2008.
The quarterback they inherited was Keenum, a sophomore at the time. The group proceeded to break several major NCAA passing records, including career marks Keenum still holds for completions (1,546), yards (19,217) and touchdowns (155).
“[Keenum is] the statistical leader in college, and it has taken him some time to make that transition [to the NFL],” Sumlin said. “Because he has been able to be in the league for six years, I think he understands his strengths and his shortcomings. He has always been a very mature player.”
That group posted a 36-17 record from 2008-11, with Keenum getting a medical redshirt year after hurting his knee in 2010. In 2011, Keenum’s final season, Houston went 13-1.
“He is a leader,” Sumlin said. “He is a guy of great character on and off the field. I think just because he has been around so much now, he understands the NFL game [better] than obviously he did six years ago, but he also understands himself.”
Keenum said that Sumlin being hired by Houston after former head coach Art Briles took the Baylor job in 2007 was a big break for him.
“Coach Sumlin came in at U of H and was my coach there for a good three-and-a-half to four years,” Keenum said. “He really, really did a great job of developing me as a player, as a quarterback and as a person off the field, too. I owe ‘Summy’ a lot of where I am today, and the coaches that he brought into my life as well.”
As far as Levine, Keenum said he was one of the first people to contact him when he signed with the Vikings in March.
“I still talk to Coach Levine; actually talked to him this week,” Keenum said. “We’ve been really close with his family. I know they have bounced around a little bit. But when I signed with Minnesota, he was one of the first people that texted me and said that Minnesota is a great place to live and a great place to bring your family. A great person, another great coach in my life that I carry life lessons on to today.”
Football in his DNA
Levine was head coach for Keenum’s final collegiate game, a 30-14 victory over Penn State at the 2012 TicketCity Bowl. Sumlin had left at the end of the regular season for Texas A&M.
Levine said Keenum is one of the smartest players he’s been around because of his football background.
“His dad [Steve Keenum] is a legendary high school coach in Texas, so he grew up around football,” Levine said. “He’ll be a great coach himself one day, if he wants to coach. He’ll know that offense as good as anybody in the program. The success he had [with the Vikings against Tampa Bay] does not surprise me at all.”
“My dad has been a big part of my life on and off the field,” Keenum said. “He was a football coach, so I’m a coach’s kid growing up. He taught me the game, taught me the basics of what it means to be a football player and a quarterback. I’d say my dad has been the most influential person.”
The Vikings remain hopeful Bradford can get back on the field soon, but I think it’s doubtful because of his two past ACL surgeries and now additional problems with that same bad left knee. So for now, the Vikings’ playoff hopes are in Keenum’s hands.
Levine on Purdue
The Boilermakers, after a bye week, will take on the Gophers on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. Levine believes his squad is ready for the challenge.
Purdue has been solid all season. The Boilermakers had a close loss in their season opener, falling 35-28 to then-No. 16 Louisville. They also led then-No. 8 Michigan 10-7 at halftime before falling 28-10. In their two victories, they have destroyed their opponents: crushing Missouri 35-3 on the road and thumping Ohio 44-21 at home.
One big challenge for Purdue is they’ll be missing two starters for the first half.
“It will hurt us,” Levine said. “We have a starting linebacker [Ja’Whaun Bentley] and a starting safety [Jacob Thieneman] that will miss the first half because of targeting penalties from our game against Michigan.
“We’ll have to play a couple of backups for those roles in the first half. Those are key components to our defense but whether [an opportunity to play comes from an] injury or targeting suspension or whatever, those guys are expected to come in and play. They’re going to have to fill a role and contribute in the first half.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org