Jerry Kill had some free time Saturday morning as he recharged in Florida after the Citrus Bowl so he gave me about 30 minutes for a phone conversation.
We talked about a number of topics. I was critical of Kill’s conservative approach in the final minute before halftime in a 33-17 loss to Missouri so our conversation started with his decision-making in that situation.
Kill wasn’t angry or testy, but he elaborated on why he elected to run out the clock rather than attempt to try and get points with his team trailing 10-7.
“I’ve been doing it for 31 years and I’ve been on two sides of that,” he said. “We’ve done something like that [try and score] and the ball went the other way and it cost us the game. On the other side of it, we’ve done it and been successful. …
“In my opinion, there are times to roll the dice. We had control. We had the ball 19 minutes to their 11 [in time of possession]. They were not dominating us. I felt like we could get right back out and score and be smart.”
Kill said he wasn’t worried about Mitch Leidner throwing as interception as much as he was Leidner getting sacked and possibly fumbling the ball deep in their territory. Leidner lost one fumble on a sack in the first quarter. He lost another fumble in the second half.
Kill said he had a lot of respect for Missouri’s defensive ends, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. In studying the Tigers on film and talking to coaches who have faced them or scouted them, the coaching staff was concerned about taking shots down the field because it would force Leidner to hang onto the ball.
“We did some things protection-wise to help us,” Kill said. “You don’t want to hold onto the ball against those guys. Well, in the situation that we were in, you’re going to have to hold onto the ball because they knew you were going to throw it. …
“When you’re in that two-minute deal, you’ve got to go down the field even with the timeouts we had. It was more about them and us being in control the game. Even though we were down, I felt as a head coach, I felt good. I felt we controlled the game in the first half. …
“If we wouldn’t have turned it over on a sack [earlier] … in a coach’s mind, that plays into it because [what] if that happens again. If we do that and the ball gets knocked out, people are going to go, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.”
I still would have preferred Kill take a more aggressive approach in that situation, but I appreciated hearing his explanation and philosophy in more detail.
Kill and his wife Rebecca stayed in Florida for a few days to re-energize before jumping back into the recruiting cycle.
I asked Kill about his expectation for Leidner next season:
Kill: “He’s just like me. I’ve got to take the one step better as a coach and he’s got to continue to grow and take the next step. He’s got to do what [Michigan State’s] Connor Cook did.”
I asked Kill if there’s a chance that redshirt freshman Jacques Perra could challenge Leidner for the job next season.
Kill: “You know what, come back and ask me – a lot of people forget about [Chris] Streveler too – but come back and ask me that question before we start spring. I need to see the offseason. But it will be hard because I think Mitch is going to take that next stride.
“I understand, it’s like people talk about me making decisions. I get that. But I would just tell you that I’ll know a lot more about everything in the spring. But I anticipate that Mitch -- certainly in the bowl game on a big stage, I thought he did a good job. I know what he can do. He’s just got to continue to work.”
I asked Kill if he has an idea of what running back Jeff Jones might bring to the offense. Jones sat out this season to focus on his grade.
Kill: “I know there’s not many athletes that are like that. He is a very, very gifted athlete. We’ll just have a lot more skill players and he’s one of them.
“Isaiah Gentry is 6-4, 205 and has got unbelievable speed. The two guys that people forgot about is Desmond Gant. He is a big, strong, fast kid. Then, Melvin Holland. All three of those kids have got talent out the tail end.
“All of those guys can really, really run. We have not had that since I’ve been here on the offensive side of the ball.”
Finally, I asked Kill about how expectations will be different for his team next season. The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West Division by writers before this season. They will be expected to contend for the division title in preseason opinions.
Kill: “That’s a good thing. If there’s no expectations, that means you’re probably going to get fired. You’re not moving the program forward. I actually think that’s good for our program and it will be good going into the offseason. It’s going to be different. But Minnesota has waited a long time for it to be different.”