Jerry Kill isn’t a fan of losing.
So as his first season as Golden Gophers head coach ended with a 3-9 record — the same mark as the team Kill inherited a year ago — he knows what must happen next.
“Our whole football team’s got to get fundamentally better at every phase of the game,” he said.
The numbers show how correct Kill is. Minnesota lost six games by double figure margins. Four of the losses were by 27 or more points. The Golden Gophers were outscored, 380-221 and allowed an average of 403.1 yards per game.
“We still have to learn how to play football,” Kill said. “We still have a lot of learning to do. We still make mistakes.”
Kill’s mantra since taking the job has been hard work. He believes that — and an upgrade in talent — are the only ways the Gophers can get out of the basement in the Big Ten Conference.
Kill began working his players as soon as he took the job last December. A few players left the program rather than deal with the new regime, but Kill doesn’t expect any more from his players than he does from himself. The coach’s history of health problems continued as he suffered three seizures during the season, including one on the sidelines during the New Mexico State game.
Kill believes the players became more receptive to his message as the season progressed.
“It’s continuity with the whole football team,” he said. “That comes through repetition. They know what we expect now. We’ll break the season down and give them a lot of things to improve upon. The one thing our coaches have done is they’ve been consistent the whole time. We’ve sent the same message, watched the same film, and said ‘This is what you’ve got to do to get better,’ and they’ve done a good job of listening.”
The Golden Gophers finished the season with a convincing 27-7 win over Illinois on Nov. 26 to end up 2-6 in the conference. The other two wins also came at home against Miami (Ohio) and Iowa.
As was the case last season, there were plenty of down moments. A loss to North Dakota State, the second straight season the Golden Gophers were defeated at home by an FCS team, was the most embarrassing moment.Minnesota was routed 58-0 at Michigan and suffered predictable blowouts to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Kill credits his players for not being overwhelmed by the losing and this will help them going into next season.
“I can tell you there aren’t many programs in college football that have gone full pads on Tuesday and Wednesday for the last four or five weeks, but I do think it’s made a difference in our football team,” Kill said. “Our kids have come to practice every week, even when we’ve been beat, they come to work and they don’t complain. We’re going to keep pushing forward.”
The non-conference schedule will be less difficult next season with the toughest game coming at home against Syracuse. The Gophers will face Wisconsin in cross-over conference action, but will avoid Penn State and Ohio State.
NCAAF Team Report – Minnesota – NOTES, QUOTES
GAME OF THE YEAR: Minnesota 27, Illinois 7 — The Gophers’ best all-around performance came in the final game of the season. Minnesota scored 20 points in the second quarter and held the Illini scoreless in the first half. That marked the first time since 2006 that Minnesota shut out a team in the first two quarters. The Gophers built a 27-0 lead before finally allowing a touchdown. MarQueis Gray threw a touchdown pass and ran for two more scores and 167 yards. Safety Kim Royston had a team-leading 13 tackles, including a sack. Minnesota, which has had trouble getting to the quarterback, recorded a season-high five sacks.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: S Kim Royston — A year ago it looked like his career was over when he missed the entire season with a broken leg. Royston was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and took advantage of it. He led the team with 123 tackles, including 71 solo stops. Royston also had 3.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and an interception.
FAST FORWARD: Coach Jerry Kill will surely continue his hard-driving ways in his first full off-season with the team. The team started to adapt to Kill’s tough-minded approach as the season progressed as the Gophers became more competitive at times. The offense will have to replace Duane Bennett, the team’s top rusher among running backs, and leading receiver Da’Jon McKnight. A threat in the backfield to go along with quarterback MarQueis Gray’s dual talents must be found. The defense will lose safety Kim Royston and linebacker Gary Tinsley, its two leading tacklers and leaders.
RECRUITING TRAIL: Minnesota has 18 known commitments at the end of the season. The coaching staff is going big on defense. Linebackers Josh Ballesteros and Drew Davis, linemen Scott Ekpe and Jordan Hinojosa and defensive backs Dinero Moss and Eric Murray could all see playing time. Rodrick Williams will join the program at running back, an area that will likely see more additions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think they’ve kind of figured it out the last four weeks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a good enough coach to get them to figure it out when I first got here, or we’d be farther along.” — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, following the Gophers’ final game, a 27-7 win over Illinois.
NCAAF Team Report – Minnesota – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011:
QB MarQueis Gray — His first season at quarterback had good and bad moments, but there’s no question he has the ability to lead the team. Gray accounted for 14 touchdowns (eight passing and six rushing). He gained a school-record 966 yards rushing for quarterbacks and cracked the 100-yard mark four times. Gray completed 50.7 percent of his passes for 1,495 yards. He threw eight interceptions and still needs to improve on his technique and decision making.
WR/KR Marcus Jones — Although a knee injury ended his freshman season after seven games, Jones definitely made an impression. He caught nine passes for 158 yards and a 20.3-yard average per catch. Jones returned 13 kickoffs for a 28.5-yard average, including a 92-yard return for a touchdown.
LB Mike Rallis — Rallis has been a steady performer in his first three seasons. He was third on the team with 83 tackles, including five for a loss. Rallis has the ability to shed blockers and stop the run as well as getting back in pass defense.
LB Gary Tinsley — A starter in his last three seasons, Tinsley finishes his career with 198 tackles. He was second on the team with 87 stops this season, including nine tackles for a loss and four sacks.
CB/KR Troy Stoudermire — Despite missing the last seven games because of a fractured left wrist, he has the skills to play at the next level. The switch from wide receiver to cornerback in 2010 revitalized his career. Stoudermire had two interceptions and 24 tackles in five games before being injured. He also had eight kickoff returns for a 21.6 yard average.
WR Da’Jon McKnight — McKnight has been a reliable possession receiver throughout his career. He caught a team-high 51 passes for four touchdowns. McKnight ends his career with 119 receptions and 15 touchdown catches.
–K Chris Hawthorne missed the last five games because of a sore quad muscle. The transfer from North Carolina State made 6-of-9 field goal attempts with a long kick of 47 yards. Hawthorne’s injury sets up an interesting battle for the starter’s job going into next season. Walk-on Jordan Wettstein made all six of his field goal tries, including a 51-yarder against Illinois.
–WR/KR Marcus Jones missed the final five games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Coach Jerry Kill says Jones is expected to be ready for spring practice.