Could it be that Jerry Kill was celebrating the University of Minnesota Board of Regents passing of the Athletes Village plan on Friday that inspired him and his Gophers football team to a 41-13 at Purdue on Saturday?
“We’ll run the ball, I’ll guarantee you that,” Kill told me as I sat in his office this past week, frustrated by the fact that the Gophers had been passing too much and not running it enough. The result was on one touchdown drive the Gophers ran the ball nine consecutive times, before finally scoring the touchdown on a play-action pass from Mitch Leidner to tight end Brandon Lingen.
Kill, who was very frustrated by last weekend’s 27-0 loss at Northwestern, must be impressed by the turnaround. The Gophers ran for 321 yards on 48 carries (6.8 per carry) Saturday, after running for 74 yards on 33 carries last week (2.2). Then on defense, the Gophers gave up an early touchdown to the Boilermakers before shutting them out almost the entire rest of the way. Purdue had only 275 yards of offense.
Maybe the highlight of the victory was a 71-yard touchdown run by freshman Shannon Brooks to give the Gophers a 17-6 lead early in the third quarter. And for all of those fans of Demry Croft, the Gophers did get the backup in the game and he completed two of five passes for 7 yards and also ran three times for 34 yards. But Leidner will be the quarterback for this season and will not be replaced, contrary to what some in the media think.
Leidner needed to pass only 12 times, completing eight of them for 59 yards, but two of them went for touchdowns, both to Lingen. Leidner also ran for a 1-yard touchdown and directed an outstanding game in all.
Brooks finished with 176 yards on 17 carries.
Kill had placed an emphasis on ball protection, and the Gophers’ lone turnover was a Leidner interception at the end of the first half. But the Gophers intercepted Purdue three times, and Jalen Myrick returned one 27 yards for a touchdown.
Now the Gophers await Nebraska, which suffered its fourth dramatic loss of the season, falling 23-21 at home to Wisconsin on Saturday when the Badgers kicked a 46-yard field goal in the final seconds. Kill will be looking for his third consecutive victory over the Cornhuskers. Can you believe it?
Kaler takes a chance
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was asked if he is sticking his neck out to build the $166 million Athletes Village when the project has raised only $80 million for construction so far.
“You’ve got to take some chances every now and then,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll have the funds flow needed to pay for this, and I think our student-athletes deserve the chance to have the kind of facilities that our competitors have.”
Kaler said he was very pleased to see the project move forward, especially thanking the initial donors, and added that the school will continue fundraising while moving ahead with construction.
“We will issue some debt that will be paid for by revenues from athletics and so that will probably play a certain level in the overall project, but we are going to continue to aggressively fundraise,” Kaler said. “We’re going to go ahead with what has been approved within the $166 million budget now, which includes practice facilities for men’s and women’s basketball, football, the center of excellence with our partners Land O’Lakes, and the other pieces that are in that $166 [million].”
Kaler is confident that once the new facilities are built, it will help recruiting, and that means helping winning.
Speaking about Kill’s commitment to the project, Kaler said: “I think Coach has been pretty aggressively pushing for facilities for football and I can’t blame him. It’s hard to recruit into that kind of structure, and I think he’s going to have more success with players that have options at other institutions that have these kind of facilities.”
Compliant with Title IX
The Gophers have worked hard to ensure their athletic department is in compliance with federal gender-equity laws under Title IX. “Title IX is an important balance for us,” Kaler said. “You need to pay attention to it all the time. I think the current Title IX review will not find major problems with our department, but if there are things we need to do to be compliant, we’ll do them.
“… It’s always something you have to pay attention to. I think numerically we are in a good place. There are probably some facilities things that could be better, but that’s probably true everywhere.”
Kaler was asked if he will look to hire an athletic director from within the university, with several candidates on the current staff. “We’re going to look for the best person to lead Gophers athletics that we can find,” he said. “If they happen to be in Minnesota now that’s OK, and if they’re not we’ll go find them.”
He said that process to name an AD will start in late winter.
• The Vikings are involved a conflict over a $15 million overrun on stadium construction, with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and Mortenson Construction heading to a mediator Nov. 9. Vikings President Mark Wilf said: “I think the stadium is going to be finished on time and these type of cost issues come up on large projects like this all the time, but we’re confident in our partnership with the authority and the folks at Mortensen that the project will be finished on time and it will be a successful, beautiful project for the fans to enjoy. We have made sure from Day 1 that it is going to be a first-class, world-class facility for our fans, and that hasn’t changed one bit.”
• The defensive coordinator at Purdue is Greg Hudson, who served on the Gophers staff under Glen Mason from 2001 to ’04, the final three years also as defensive coordinator.
• Eric Decker, who missed Week 3 for the New York Jets because of a sprained left knee, returned last Sunday to catch five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins. The ex-Gophers receiver has a TD reception in every game he has played this year.
• A tough break for ex-Gopher MarQueis Gray, who was put on season-ending injured reserve by the Bills on Tuesday. The tight end suffered a fractured forearm against the Giants on Sunday, when he caught his first pass of the season, for 2 yards. Buffalo claimed Gray last November after the Vikings waived him.
• Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia on playing in the Big Ten: “It has been good. It’s fun going to Michigan every year. I like the fact that you play everybody home-and-home, so you have a true champion. I do wish there were a couple more teams so we had an eight-team league vs. a six-team league, and hopefully down the line that will happen.”