At Big Ten media day in July, Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach, Jerry Kill, boldly stated “we don’t want to be average.” This was in reference to a Gopher football team that went 6-7 (2-6) last season and lost to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Kill was intrigued to get the ball rolling quickly entering his third season as head coach. The Gophers got the message and started the season 4-0 for the second consecutive season.
Winning games within the Big Ten has been the biggest issue for Kill thus far, and so far this season, the Gophers haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations after being pummeled by both the Iowa Hawkeyes (23-7) and the Michigan Wolverines (42-13) to begin the Big Ten campaign.
Kill posts a 4-12 Big Ten record, but a big problem in the previous seasons was finding an identity for the team. The Gophers quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner are vying for the starting spot. Each quarterback is mobile and can make superb plays with their feet. Leidner they say, has the better arm.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are missing former stand-out wide receiver A.J Barker, who was the leader of the offense last season. Barker’s season was cut short last year due to an ankle injury. He ended up quitting the team.
The Gophers’ staff is hoping that the mobility from its quarterbacks will open up a passing game even without Barker, which will make the team well-balanced, creating a versatile identity, leading them to become contenders in the Big Ten. So far, the plan is not working because the Gophers are racking up more yards on the ground than through the air per-game.
Nelson, who came in as the starting quarterback, has struggled this season. This gave Leidner a chance to step in at Michigan and prove that he could be the starter. Still, neither quarterback has shown that they can provide enough offensive punch lead their team to victory in the Big Ten.
The defense hasn’t been spectacular either. Injuries can attest to some of the problems, but the Gophers aren’t competing offensively or defensively.
Kill has epilepsy and throughout his tenure has missed games due to the condition. Last week at Michigan marks the fifth time he has been absent from at least part of a game due to a seizure. Last week was the first time he’s missed a full game.
Minnesota is a young team and they need a leader. The head coach is the one responsible for helping players develop, especially during the games. I just don’t see anyone developing into a true leader on this squad. More players are expressing their frustration with the situation, but continue to stand by Kill.
It has to be hard to create an identity as a team if the coach is going to miss long periods of time. The Gophers look lost on the field in Big Ten play and it’s hard to peg that all on the players when the man in charge of coordinating his team to victory is missing games.