Coming off Saturday’s 10-7 win over Kent State, the Gophers have hunkered down, looking for answers on how to kick-start the offense. Coach Jerry Kill has involved the players in the brainstorming sessions.
“There’s a time to yell at somebody, and there’s a time to teach, and right now is a time to teach,” Kill said. “They feel bad enough as it is.”
Kill met with the offensive position groups Sunday and asked for player input.
“It’s kind of like talking to your kid,” Kill said. “You’ve got to figure out why he’s struggling in math, so you just talk to him. We’ve got to work together to fix it.”
Kill said some players described being too tense and unsure on the field. The coaches have simplified some schemes to make sure the inexperienced players, filling in for injured veterans, aren’t overwhelmed.
Some players have decisions to make each play at the line of scrimmage, based on what the defense does. Kent State threw some curve balls at the offense, and the Gophers’ younger players had trouble making adjustments.
Kill said defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel spends 10 minutes after each practice making sure his group knows all the upcoming checks it needs to make. Other position groups have done more of that this week.
“It can be, ‘Hey, OK, they’re running the truck blitz, pick it up and so forth,’ ” Kill said. “We’re doing it, but evidently we need to do more, and the kids said that helps them.”
Kill said the coaches did a lot of listening. He agreed with much of what the players said. He also told them: “There is one thing I’ll tell you that I’m right on. We are supposed to be a tough, physical team, and that’s a little bit what I’m disappointed in. Even if you make a mistake, go make it hurt.”
Kill said safety Damarius Travis has a more severe hamstring injury than the one David Cobb had last year, when Cobb returned to face Wisconsin one week after getting injured. Travis got hurt in the Sept. 3 opener and remains out this week.
Tight end Brandon Lingen, who suffered a concussion Sept. 12 at Colorado State, will return Saturday against Ohio. Kill said safety Ace Rogers and left tackle Ben Lauer are both questionable with knee injuries.
Mortell starts strong
In Peter Mortell, the Gophers have reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year, and they’ve already used him for 23 punts. No other team in the conference has more than 17.
Mortell has placed seven of his punts inside the 20-yard line, with no touchbacks, after leading the conference with 12 touchbacks a year ago.
“Last year, I wasn’t happy at all with the amount of touchbacks I had,” the senior said. “I was too aggressive, kind of kicking to the 1 or the 2 [yard line], hoping it would bounce back. I did some more drill work where I put cones on the 8 and the 10, and I just shot for there — a little more room for error. I’m definitely pleased that we’re getting them pinned deep.”
Kill still mum on QBs
Kill again declined to explain why true freshman Demry Croft was warming up against Kent State. The coach said starting quarterback Mitch Leidner has “done well” in practice this week, reiterating that the bigger issue is the offensive line.
“Everybody’s going to compete this week,” Kill said. “We’re going to find out who’s going to play and who’s not. We may have a few changes. Not radical or whatever, but we may have a few changes. We’ll see.
“We’re looking forward to Saturday and winning another game. Whatever it takes. [Ohio’s] a good team. They’re like Northern Illinois. They’re 3-0. It’ll be like playing Colorado State. So be ready to play.”