EVANSTON, ILL. – The Gophers could have played the equivalent of three football games Saturday and they would not have scored.
They could’ve played until Wednesday and they wouldn’t have scored. Heck, they could have played to infinity and the result would have been the same.
Zilch, nothing, nada, punt.
The Gophers made offense appear more complicated than molecular biology in a 27-0 shellacking at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats on a blustery day at Ryan Field.
They couldn’t pass the ball. They couldn’t run the ball. They couldn’t block anyone.
Jerry Kill didn’t have many answers afterward, either.
“Wish I could snap my fingers,” he said.
Even a magic wand might not fix this mess. Five years into Kill’s regime, his offense looks both clueless and hopeless.
The Gophers don’t have a quarterback, and their line can’t block well enough to sustain anything, run or pass. An ultra-conservative game plan showed the coaching staff has zero confidence in any part of the offense.
And the blame falls squarely on Kill’s shoulders.
“Everyone wants to blame the quarterback,” Kill said. “They need to blame me.”
The Gophers suffered their first shutout since a 58-0 thumping by Michigan in 2011, Kill’s first season. That one was somewhat understandable. This one was inexcusable.
Credit where it’s due: Northwestern has an aggressive and athletic defense. Pat Fitzgerald has built a formidable unit. But the Wildcats aren’t the ’85 Bears.
The Gophers’ last goose egg against Northwestern came in 1959 — the same season fans hung coach Murray Warmath in effigy. Twitter is now the gathering place for seething frustration.
The opinion here remains that Kill is a good coach and right fit for Minnesota. But it is alarming that his offense looks so incompetent five years into the job.
A point made recently is worth repeating: Offense has never been easier in college football. The game is designed for offenses to flourish. Points are scored at record pace.
Not for the Gophers. Statistically, they own one of the worst offenses in college football. What’s more, they seem so disjointed that it’s hard to know what they’re even trying to accomplish when they have the ball.
They amassed only 173 total yards, averaging 2.7 yards per play. They often ran up the middle or threw short passes on third down because they had no faith in Mitch Leidner to make a play or his protection to give him time.
The plan felt as if the coaches were hoping that Northwestern might fumble a punt or the Gophers defense would intercept a pass to create an opening.
That approach won’t win many Big Ten games.
“We’ve got a group that’s lost some confidence,” Kill said.
Probably none more so than their starting quarterback. Kill is correct when he says their issues extend beyond Leidner, but his performance offered further proof that a change is needed. Leidner threw an interception in the first half. He lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He once again missed receivers on wild throws way off the mark.
Leidner seems like a wonderful person and teammate, but this just isn’t working.
That’s not to say Demry Croft will be any better. Nobody knows that for sure. The true freshman had his share of shaky moments in relief, too.
He nearly was intercepted on two passes and was sacked three times. He will experience growing pains. If that line continues to function like a turnstile, it won’t matter who plays quarterback.
Kill declined to commit to Croft as his starter moving forward, saying he wants to evaluate video and reflect on his decision.
Fine, but is it really a difficult choice at this point? They’ve seen what Leidner can do. Now, they must see what they have in Croft.
The coaching staff already misplayed the situation by not giving Croft snaps in nonconference games. Those games proved to be closer than anyone anticipated, but Leidner’s struggles didn’t just sneak up on everyone.
The coaches had to realize that a change was possible, even likely, at some point. They should have found ways to use Croft before Saturday.
Kill looked deflated after the game. He talked quietly. His program has made progress in so many areas, but one remains a major problem.
Five years in, Kill’s offense is in shambles. And the blame stops with him.