Minnesota: Closer Look

This was supposed to be “the year”. Everywhere Jerry Kill has gone he has been very successful. In particular his third seasons at both NIU and Southern Illinois (his two previous stops) were those breakthrough years. Take a peek:

The third year had been the charm for Jerry Kill
The third year had been the charm for Jerry Kill

By now you know the third year at Minnesota won’t be Jerry Kill’s year. The head coach has temporarily stepped away from his duties to attend to his health. Kill sufferred yet another epileptic seizure prior to the Michigan game. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has stepped in to the all too familiar role as fill-in head coach. Northwestern has faced some adversity in the last two weeks, but from a coaching position, well, it’s been all water balloons compared to what Minnesota is going through. We wish the best to one of the more respected coaches at the FBS level.

Football will go on this Saturday and it’s striking how similar the two programs’ seasons have gone to date. Both teams exploded out of the gates with a 4-0 mark and some impressive point totals. Both teams padded points thanks to the defense (and in Minnesota’s case, special teams) aiding the offense. And both teams have taken a u-turn in the past two games.

The Gophers are notorious for scheduling Glen Mason-soft non-conference games and they didn’t disappoint in 2013. Wins over UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State seemingly gave the team the confidence boost they needed to improve upon the six-win 2012 season and take that Jerry Kill-like jump to the next level. However, starting QB Philip Nelson suffered a hanstring injury and Mitch Leidner has struggled mightily to replace him. The Iowa Hawkeyes dominated the Gophers 23-7 in the B1G opener in a game that was more lopsided than the final score. Then, two weeks ago, Michigan lambasted the Gophers in Ann Arbor. Devin Gardner barely threw in the first half and Minnesota couldn’t stop him. It was a bigtime blowout. Here’s the Gophers schedule and results to date:

MN 2013 record

The non-conference point totals by Minnesota are a tad deceiving. The offense has been anemic through the air, averaging only 116.8 ypg. The Gophers have spread the wealth on the ground game, effectively, and average 216 ypg on the ground, yet no one running back has come close to Treyvon Green’s total yardage (66 carries, 429 yds). ¬†David Cobb is the Gophers’ leading rusher with just 374 yards.

You want strengths? They’ve got some solid players on the D-line, led by senior, Ra’Shede Hageman. The Gophers mirror some recent NU defenses in that they may not be pretty, but they find ways to keep opponents out of the end zone. The Gophers give up only 24 ppg and are the second best B1G team in red zone defense (75%).

You can bet Minnesota fans, as they always are, are looking at Saturday as one of the few games remaining on the schedule that they’ve got a good chance to win. Conversely, NU fans are thinking “we HAVE to beat Minnesota.” I don’t think any fan is cocky, but we’ve come to expect to beat the lower tier teams and the ‘Cats have delivered on that expectation time and again in recent years.

The Gophers have all sorts of injury challenges, including some potentially game-changing ones to the secondary. Three-fourths of the secondary entered the week injured, but all three have returned to practice. Despite Leidner’s challenges at QB, he’s been named the starter again this week.¬†

Fitz delivered the positive news that he received positive news regarding Venric and Kain’s injury status and promptly alerted the media that it means they’re day-to-day. The buzz around the Wildcats promising 2013 season is all but gone right now. You can feel the air left the room – for now. Here’s to the ‘Cats taking care of business on Saturday and starting to inject some positive energy back in to the community.

  • Mark

    Re the rest of the season: I’m going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. The spread offense is like the smooth stones and the intelligence of the NU players is like . . .

    • Indycat15

      David’s flipflop? Not as central to the tale as you might think. Intelligent players are nice, but not if the guy across the line is getting drafted in the first round.
      But yes- I am looking forward to Gladwell’s new book too. Loved Outliers. (Make sure your kids are born in September)

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    I actually think it’s critical that we win both this Saturday against Minnesota plus next weekend at Io_a. Wins in both of those:

    (a) gets us in the bowl eligible category headed to November
    (b) may build back a little hype for our game in Lincoln (not a ton, mind you, but at least a little)
    (c) gives us a 2-2 October, which has historically been Fitz’s worst month as a head coach
    (d) gets us at least off the bottom of the division and into the middle; not saying middle is good, but it beats being on the bottom like we are right now

    I really think headed into November at 5-3 puts us in a tense situation given the 1st 3 games in November don’t have any bottom feeders. There will be a big difference between heading into the Neb-Mich-MSU sequence at 6-2 vs. 5-3.