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:
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:
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.