Two Huge Return Touchdowns Crush Gopher Nation!
A QB Controversy may have returned to Dinkytown
Is Jerry Kill even going to be around to coach Minnesota?
It is time for the kids gloves to come off and really put everything out on the table for Gophers Football after a pathetic loss to North Dakota State on Saturday. The Gophers were not caught off guard by this Bison squad because HC Jerry Kill knew what he was getting into and was in rare form during his weekly press conference before this weekend’s game.
Kill thanked those who were in attendance waiting to hear the HCs preparation for this non-conference game. “I’ve got great respect for their coach. He’s a hard-nosed guy. And they play that way. They do not take plays off. That’s something that we can learn from here at the University of Minnesota” Kill said adamantly. Those words would come to ring true for the Gophers team but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
Minnesota last played the Bison in 2007 at the Metrodome when they lost 27-21 but the game before that the Gophers were forced to block a FG attempt to lock up a victory. Minnesota was 8-1 entering this game against ND State in a rivalry that dates all the way back to 1898. The Bison had played 15 games against the Big Ten entering Saturday but were 1-14 against the competition with their lone win coming in ’07. Since moving to the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) the Bison have played just 7 games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams and have beaten Ball State, Central Michigan, Kansas and the Gophers holding a 4-3 winning record against the FBS.
ND State HC Craig Bohl is in his 9th season with the Bison and has a record of 63-30 and was coming off of two big victories blowing out LaFayette and St. Francis (PA) by a combined score of 98-9. HC Bohl was also given two weeks to prepare for this game against the Gophers and is 6-1 in games after a bye week. Bohl said “our guys prepared well, we knew it was going to be a challenge. We came here to win, not to be conservative” after his Bison knocked of the Gophers 37-24 for the second straight time.
The Gophers started the game well receiving the ball and storming downfield for an opening drive TD, their first of the year and the first TD that the Bison had let up. Minnesota was able to keep that 7-0 going into the 2nd quarter, another first, by not allowing their opponent to score early and often. Too bad for Gopher Nation the first quarter was the only highlight of the game worth talking about after a loss that is more deflating than the upset by New Mexico St just a few weeks ago.
The Gophers biggest mistakes both involved Bison CB Marcus Williams who is a Minnesota native that played basketball at Hopkins High School. Williams played point guard at Hopkins but HC Bohl said “we recruited him and he believed in us. He really showed up tonight”. I’d say he showed up, Williams was at the right place during the right time, running along Colten Heagle after Heagle had picked off Gophers QB MarQueis Gray at the end of the first half. Heagle flipped the ball to Williams as he was being tackled around midfield and the CB took it 52 yards to put the Bison up 28-14 going into the half. What really hurt was his game clinching INT return for a TD that happened when he picked off Max Shortell late in the 4th quarter and ran it back 40 yards for his 2nd return TD of the game.
The Bison scored 28 points in the 2nd quarter, scoring a TD on their first 3 offensive drives and was capped off by Williams unbelievable play down the sideline. The Gophers scored on their opening drive but sputtered during their second drive, surprisingly HC Kill brought in QB Max Shortell for the 3rd drive. Shortell was under Center when they scored their 2nd TD of the game but it came after 10 straight rushing plays by Minnesota. Shortell was given the opportunity late in the game to lead the team down and tie the game but he threw the pass that Williams pick sixed.
Donnell Kirkwood was the lone shining light for the Gophers offense riding the momentum that began after his coming out party last week. Kirkwood had both Gophers first half TDs, a 4 yarder and a 30 yarder, but finished the game with just 10 rushing attempts, 70 yards and those 2 scores. Du’ane Bennett responded well to the pressure Kirkwood has put on his starting role rushing the ball 13 time for a team high 75 yards and is the only RB that seems to play into the passing game as well. MarQueis Gray had a record breaking game against Miami (OH) last week but the athletic QB had just 23 net rushing yards on 13 attempts.
Gray was Sacked 4 times and finished the game 5-12 for 53 yards, a long pass of 17 yards and he also threw that huge INT at the end of the first half. It was Gray’s fault that the ball was going the other way but it wasn’t his fault that his teammates quit in their pursuit of the ball carrier and allowed Williams and the Bison to send the Gophers into their locker room absolutely shocked. When asked about the game changing play after the game: “It’s disappointing, a big swing of momentum. We’ve have to be smarter in that situation” Kill continued “You have to play discipline football. . .We have to change the culture and it’s not going to happen over night”.
We all know that it’s just the first few games of what Jerry Kill hopes to be a long tenure at Minnesota and he is playing with the last few players of the Glen Mason era and predominantly he is coaching players recruited during the Tim Brewster saga. Kill was fired up early in the week and talked about the mentality of his players “there’s just no room for error with our program where it’s at and the kids playing, and they have got to understand that. . . They take damn plays off and all. That that’s why I do have respect for ND State. They don’t take no damn plays off. That’s why they win. If we learn not to take any damn plays off, then we would have lost to [the Aggies]”.
He continued to explain: “It’s a deal of getting the mentality built into a group of young people that, hey, you are not super human, forget the five-star bullshit. You need to learn how to play hard. That’s It”. HC Kill has been adamant about there not being a QB controversy in Dinkytown but the coach hasn’t been shy about his use of Max Shortell.
When asked about Gray and the QB situation in the beginning of the week Kill said “He got us in some good plays and got out of some tough plays, and then I think his comfortability, you would have to ask him, I think Max [Shortell], has helped him in the fact that I think he knows Max is there; if he gets physically tired and whether he’s running the ball or need to get a break, that he can come out and we can put Max in there”. Gray was replaced in the 4th quarter after ND State had taken a 31-17 lead and Shortell did lead the Gophers down for a TD connecting with TE Eric Lair for 20 yards and the score.
Shortell did look like more of a pure passer in the pocket and he finished the game 4-8 with 71 yards, a Sack and the TD. The problem is we know what Gray is capable of with his legs and at times he is able to put enough touch on the ball to keep the defense honest, as mediocre as his opposition has been thus far. I personally feel that what Kill has been doing these last few games has been detrimental to the progression of either QB because there is no confidence in either one.
When asked about the QB situation Kill said “We’re just trying to win games. Both kids have done good things. We’re inexperienced. Do I like playing two QBs? No but we’re still trying to figure out a lot of things in our program”. Kill needs to make his decision and stick to it, if he believes that Gray’s athleticism prevails or that the prospect of molding Shortell into a 4 year starter is the way he wants to go. No matter which side of the fence you are on the problem isn’t just the QB situation.
The offensive line has been able to show us that they are capable of creating huge lanes but they have also showed us that they are just as capable of folding like origami. The Gophers have some great offensive threats in Da’Jon McKnight and Eric Lair but the inconsistent play-calling and the Gophers inability to establish a passing threat keeps these tools hidden away, lost behind the broken rush attack and short yardage passing scheme.
The real problem for Minnesota is their defense. There is no way this team wins another game without getting their shit together on the defensive side of the ball. They haven’t had a pass rush for what seems like a lifetime and that makes it extremely difficult on the DBs. It’s not that we have stellar talent at CB or S but we aren’t doing them any favors by allowing opposing QBs 3-7 seconds every play to find an open receiver. The LBs are the only unit on defense that I am confident in, Rallis, Tinsley and Cooper are legit and have the ability to make big plays but they need help around them.
The problem is that this is College Football and you aren’t able to bring players in for tryouts and sign them out of the free agency to fill in and play next week. It all comes down to recruiting and HC Kill hasn’t had much of an opportunity to get his type of players in this program. He’s working with another coaches tools who recruited this team on a drastically different style of play and Kill is left holding the bag.
However, here’s the biggest problem, HC Kill entered the Mayo Clinic on Sunday after suffering another seizure. During the week he had joked “What the hell am I supposed to do? Stop? I mean, sit in the chair and wait for the next god damn seizure to come along? I’ve had about 20 of them in the last six damn days, and I’m still walking, still coaching”. Kill has readmitted himself in hopes of resolving his ongoing health issues. He said “the seizures continue to be a concern for me and my family. [My Wife] and I have made the decision to do what it takes to find a solution. I hope to be back to work soon, but we believe that taking some time away to get a handle on this is the right thing to do”.
Kill isn’t a stupid man and knows that this thing isn’t going to turn around immediately and that this season is the beginning of completely rebuilding the Gophers Football Program. Kill also knows that there aren’t many games left on their schedule that they may be able to win, if any, and his health is more important than worrying about next weeks game-plan. Gophers Athletic Director Joel Maturi told the media “we all want what’s best for [Jerry], and his health is our first and foremost concern. I have full confidence that our football staff will get the team prepared while Jerry is away. We all want him back on the sidelines. But it’s time to find a resolution”.