Tag Archives: Jerry Kill

Quarterback Controversies? What Quarterback Controversies?

The 2012 edition of the tilt for Paul Bunyan’s Axe contains one exciting subplot after another. Can the Gophers bounce back from subpar performances against Iowa and Northwestern? Will the Badgers be able to maintain their momentum fresh off their most complete victory of the season? Is Coach Kill’s seizure issue becoming a distraction for the squad?

But all those issues are secondary to the indecision that has surrounded both programs at the most critical of positions: quarterback.

The Gophers have run out two different starters during the first six games of the season: Marqueis “Maybe I Should Be Playing WR” Gray and Max “Stop Comparing Me To Andy Dalton” Shortell. The Badgers have deployed the tandem of: Danny “Seriously, I Am Not Russell Wilson” O’Brien and Joel “Freshman This!” Stave.

Coach Kill has flip-flopped worse than Obama…I mean…Romney…I mean, blast, cannot make a political joke without alienating half the readers.

Most recently, the Gophers have seen both Gray and Shortell fail behind the helm. This has only fueled the speculation over who should start. And while starting Gray at wide receiver and letting Shortell grow into the QB position might be the best approach for the team’s success now and in the future, Gray produces just enough magic when behind the center to continue justify giving him another shot.

The game against Northwestern is a classic example. There were a half dozen plays where Gray used his athleticism to escape Wildcat pressure and make a positive play. Most times those plays were with his legs, but occasionally he would find an open receiver. Unfortunately, he does not do this consistently enough to solidify his claim to the starting role. Furthermore, putting Gray at wide receiver still ensures his athleticism is on the field while, at the same time, improving the Gophers at a position of need. Unfortunately, the Gophers seem reluctant to name Shortell the starter.

Interestingly enough, Coach Kill has had success with two starting QBs (see Chand Harnish and Jordan Lynch), but I am not sure that same strategy will work with Gray and Shortell. Further, if Gray has any hope of getting a real paycheck to play football…er….I mean….to play for real money….I mean…..to play on Sundays, he had better get used to the idea of catching the football. What better way than to start showcasing his talents now. Accept the Hines Ward conversion and hope you can even have half the career he did in the National Football League. Plus, making a decision will probably give Shortell a shot in the arm and we can find out what we have with him.

Now, the Badgers have dealt with their QB controversy a little more affirmatively (and it may be the reason they are printing these same t-shirts next year too).

O’Brien started the year. Struggled. Bielema went to freshman Joel Stave, despite little pressure to do so, and Stave has returned a mixed bag. What seemed like a desperation move has seemed to spark the offense to a certain extent. Stave’s numbers are not overly impressive, as he has completed a tick more than 58% of his passes (significantly less than Danny Boy). But he has had made more big plays, completing one pass for 50+ yard in 3 of his 4 starts (O’Brien only had 1 in his 3 starts). It is this type of stat that has many clamoring for Bielema to let Stave off the leash and let him sling it.

Tolzein was certainly not the flashiest of QBs, but he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2010 and had only 6 INTs all season. Game. Manager.

But, this type of football is the norm for the Badgers. If any major football program is known for producing game mangers, it is Wisconsin. From Jim Sorgi to Scott Tolzein, the Badgers have consistently had guys that thrived at not making mistakes and systematically marching the squad down the field. The play-calling has limited Stave to the game manager mode. But, he has demonstrated (in limited opportunities) that he has the skill set to be something more. Once the play-calling expands, the offense could really take off.

All of that being said, it might be Bielema’s decision to make a decision and name Stave the starter that separates the Badgers from the Gophers (and maybe gives them an edge — which means more of these shirts too). The Gophers lack an identity because their coaches seem unwilling to pick a horse and go with it. Stave, for all his differences from the Wisconsin mold, is the starter. The team knows it. The fans know it. But, maybe most importantly, he knows it.

Ultimately, it is Stave’s self-confidence that just might be the difference in this Saturday’s rivalry game at Camp Randall. While the Gophers QBs struggle to assert themselves, Stave can march out there knowing he is the guy. Misguided or not, that kind of confidence can be the difference between making a play when it matters and doing something that hurts the team. Controversy? What controversy!

Seeing The Forest For The QBs

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 3-0. That is right, undefeated. Zero losses. And, for this program, that represents a major step forward.

If not for the Wildcats winning season, Gophers opponents would have one win between them.

Last year’s squad was 3 and 9. So, for any Badger fans reading this, that is right, this year’s team has already equaled the win total from last year. That, in and of itself, is impressive. It does not matter that the three teams the Gophers have beaten have 3 wins between them — thank you New Hampshire. It was not too long ago when one Coach Brew was getting embarrassed by cupcakes on an annual basis (see here and here — for just a couple examples). It seems like fans are just about to the point where they feel comfortable sporting Gophers gear in public again.

Unfortunately, last week’s win was not without a few blemishes. For one, the win was not the walk in the park that Wildcats of New Hampshire were the week before. Perhaps most importantly, the game saw senior QB, MarQueis Gray, who was struggling to move the Gophers offense in the first half, go down to what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Insert the Max “Golden Armed Gopher” Shortell.

Shortell immediately lived up to his Twitter handle, firing up the Gophers offense, and connecting with A.J. Barker (twice) for TDs. He then put the Gophers up for good in the second half with a pretty throw to tight end Drew Goodger.

Under Shortell’s direction, the Gophers were able to move the ball through the air in a way that they rarely have all season. Shortell’s performance against WMU was eerily similar to his effort in the game against the Cardinal-allergic USC Trojans last season. Like in that game, Shortell seemed to get less effective as the game wore on. This might have to do with the fact that the less-than-fearsome WMU defense prepared all week for the dual threat that is MarQueis Gray. Not the more traditional, likely not going anywhere, Golden Armed Shortell. But, as the game wore on, WMU got acclimated to the switch and was able to turn the Gophers away.

Ultimately, Golden Arm’s 2012 relief appearance ended a lot more pleasantly than it did in 2011. The Gophers won. Did I mention they are 3-0? However, that victory has triggered an intense discussion regarding whether it should be him, versus Gray, who captains the Gophers offense moving forward.

Gophers fans cannot lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of who starts at QB, the squad is undefeated and on a bit of a roll.

I could go on for the next 5,000 words telling you why the Gophers should name Gray or Shortell the starter. Gray provides the Gophers a dual threat who can keep defenses honest with his scrambling. Shortell has a cannon where most folks have a right shoulder and with the new talent infusion at WR, he could really turn the Gophers offense into a force moving forward. But I think that debate is a bit short-sighted.

After all, we already have exactly as many wins as we did all of last season. Jerry Kill and his staff are the individuals who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that turn around. Call me Gary Busey, but I trust the coaching staff that has engineered the beginning to this maroon and gold revival. Coaches Kill and Limegrover are qualified to decide which QB, Gray or Shortell, is most likely to lead the Gophers to their first successful season in five years. We as Gophers fans should just be happy with the current results — again, a 3-0 record — and excited about the rest of the season.

2012 Gopher Football: 50 Shades of Gray

The 2012 Gopher football season is hours from getting underway. The Gophers kick off their season in Las Vegas, NV against the Runnin Rebels of UNLV. And no, this is not Larry Johnson’s and The Shark’s UNLV.

The Runnin’ Rebels will be hoping to channel a bit of LJ’s dominance in their season opening tilt with the Gophers.

Last year’s UNLV squad was 2-10 under 2nd year wunderkid, head coach, Bobby Hauck. They scored significant wins over CSU and the program formerly known as Hawaii. There are some who believe that this year’s squad should make another leap. 4-8 or 5-7 might be a possibility. Though, at +8, book makers agree that their first win is likely not coming against Jerry Kill’s squad.

The 2012 Gophers season is a tough one to prognosticate. Fans seem to be cautiously optimistic. The gear is ready. 2011’s squad was consistently inconsistent. They lost the games they should have won and won a couple that they had no business winning. The Gophers made a nice little run during some conference games against the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats (a game they should have won). The driving force during last season’s mini-run was then junior QB MarQueis Gray. He showed maturity and athleticism during what was an otherwise chaotic season. It is his composure and continued improvement that is vital to this year’s squad.

Gray threw for 1,500 yards and ran for nearly 1,000 more. He averaged 7 yards per attempt and  almost 5 yards a carry. This was with a receiving corps that was depleted by injuries and just not that good. Even though this year’s version is young, there is a lot of promise there. Devin Crawford-Tufts and Brandon Green are steady performers with the potential to be solid contributors, each capable of making a jump. Jamel Harbison and Megatron 2.0, Andre McDonald, headline a very strong group of freshman wideouts.

While he does not strike the most imposing figure, Megatron 2.0 makes up for it with a tenacious willingness to go and get it. The kid is a flat out beast in the air.

Normally, freshman wideouts do not make a significant impact on a season’s outcome. Players like Sammy Watkins, who dominated for Clemson last season and scorched the ACC on a weekly basis, are a once-a-decade type players. While neither Harbison nor McDonald were rated as highly as Watkins coming in to this season, both have ceilings that are IDS Center high. Particularly Megatron 2.0 (check it out here). His athleticism and tenacity, the kid just flat out goes to get the ball, make him fun to watch. That being said, like most other freshman receivers, his success is directly tied to his quarterback.

Gray’s maturation at the end of last year would have been even more apparent if he had a wideout who could catch a ball. In the Northwestern game particularly, Gophers wideouts dropped multiple catchable passes, including a few that would have been big plays. Gray’s new toys, Harbison and Megatron 2.0, should ensure less drops and more big plays.

The other wild card for the Gophers and Gray is the offensive line. With only one returning starter from last season, head hog Ed Olson, the young guys are going to have to step up. Look for Jonah Pirsig and his fellow freshman to play a big role in the Gophers success this year. Keeping MarQueis upright is obviously critical to his, and the team’s, success. Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover have always been known for strong offensive play. Even though the current cast is young, there is a lot of potential there. Having a veteran like Olson to help in mentoring the kids will only help to expedite their maturation.

There are a lot of unknowns that need to be sorted out this season. Is MarQueis Gray a legitimate Big 10 QB? Can a running QB succeed in Coach Kill’s system? How good will beer service be at The Bank? Last year’s hint of success has this Gophers fan ever so slightly optimistic. How those unknowns     are sorted out will determine whether we as fans are satisfied with our first post-season appearance since 2009 or left wanting more after another chaotic season.

Bill paying time. For those of you interested in catching a Gophers game at The Bank, skate on over to Ticket King. They have great deals on all the Gophers games. Sit anywhere in the stadium (enjoy an adult beverage) and watch evolution of Megatron 2.0.

An Expected Loss That Hurt For A Different Reason

The Golden Gophers men’s basketball team lost for the fifth time in a row.  Granted, it was a loss to an up and coming Hoosier squad.  However, it was both the nature of the defeat and what happened after game, nearly 800 miles away, that made this loss a bit more painful.

This year’s Gophers team has been ravaged by injuries and, a team that was initially forecast to break through and challenge the upper echelon of the Big 10, has struggled to get out of the basement.  Certainly, the injury to All-Big 10 forward, Trevor Imbakwe has had a lot do with that fall.  Although, that said, most teams in college basketball are going to get hit by the injury bug at some point in the season.  It is a true measure of a team whether it can weather the loss of those players.

Royce's defection at least showed progress because he was a Gopher, if only for a minute.

The point should also be made, and has been in space, that the loss of super-recruit Royce White has hurt this team’s ability to battle through that particularly key injury.  However, as much as Royce’s defection hurt, perhaps a more troubling trend was exemplified by something that happened after the Hoosiers were finished whupping the Gophers.

Bo Ryan’s Badgers squad was hanging tough with the #5 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Although, at this point, we ought to consider re-labeling the Badgers the Golden Gopher East squad.  3 of the 5 starters on the floor for that squad are native Minnesotans.  That is right, senior leader and All-Big 10 PG, Jordan Taylor, glue guy Mike Brusewitz, and do-it-all forward Jared Berggren all are from Minnesota.

The Saint Croix has been a passage-way for Minnesota's best to go play hoops for the Golden Gophers East.

Today, it was Taylor and Berggren that carried the day for the Golden Gopher East squad.  Taylor made a couple big shots down the stretch and played relentless defense on super-sophomore, Aaron Craft.  He also assisted on Berggren’s big 3 with less than a minute to play.  And Berggren iced the victory with two huge free throws.  It was a team victory.  No doubt.  Unfortunately, that “team” is made up of players from west of the St. Croix.  And, as a fan of the Golden Gopher West squad, that stings.

Golden Gophers Head Coach Tubby Smith has taken a lot of flak this year for a wide-variety of reasons.  One thing that has not been talked about is his inability to close down the border.  This failing is even more apparent because of the success that the Golden Gopher East squad is achieving.  They are now near the top of the Big 10, and are almost assured of another solid seed in this year’s tournament.

In a season filled with a laundry list of what-ifs, imagine if Tubby, upon his arrival to Minnesota, had closed the border as effectively as Coach Kill.  Imbakwe’s injury would not have hurt nearly as much because team leader, PG, Taylor would not let the squad fall apart.  Berggren could step in and pick up the scoring slack, while Brusewitz is the perfect rebounding/defensive engine for any winning team.

There is a decent chance that, at the end of this year, Tubby will be asked to retire from his position as the head basketball coach.   If he does keep his job, one way to be sure that he keeps that job for a while, is to make sure the home grown talent stays at home.   Otherwise, if Gophers fans are forced to watch as another Golden Gopher East squad makes a run in the NCAA Tournament, you can be sure Tubby might be watching them like the rest of us, as a fan on his favorite couch.

Blockading The I94 and I35 Corridors

Three years from now, Gophers fans may look back on the incoming draft class of the 2012 mens’ football team as the beginning of the end of what has been a frustratingly consistent exodus of Minnesota’s most talented prep football stars.

McDonald is bringing his talents back to the West Bank.

Reports are circulating that Hopkins’ Andre McDonald has decided that he is going to bring his considerable pass-catching skills back to the University of Minnesota.  Calling his commitment a roller coaster might be the understatement of the year.  He originally committed to the Gophers in the summer of 2011, then, abruptly de-committed and committed to Vanderbilt.  With all the indecision and drama, locals felt like extras in an episode of Jersey Shore (minus the tanning and hair gel). When the coach who recruited McDonald took a job elsewhere, McDonald de-committed from Vanderbilt and eventually elected to return to the Gophers.

When asked why he decided to return to the maroon and gold, McDonald insisted that it was the perseverance and persistence of the Gophers’ coaching staff that kept him from taking the I94 or I35 out of town this summer.  McDonald’s recruitment is a great example of a shift that has slowly taken place with prep athletes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  That shift, a renewed desire to play for and attend the University of Minnesota, can be attributed to Coach Jerry Kill, that leader of young men who is entering his second year as head coach.

For the past ten years, the prep football scene in Minnesota has been an untapped talent pool for charismatic coaches from around the country.  The Jim Tressels and Pete Carrolls of the world supplemented great teams with the top talent from Minnesota.  Perhaps the worst offenders were our cheddar loving neighbors to the East.  The Badgers’ coaches were annually making their trip on I94 to pirate the spoils of Minnesota’s prep scene.  Taking, not only some of Minnesota’s top recruits, but, also sniping the middle tier recruits that are the difference between a losing season and the Dippin Dots Chocolate Sundae Bowl.  And, make no mistake, for the Gophers, that Chocolate Sundae Bowl would be a significant improvement on the efforts of Coach Kill’s predecessor, the “Recruiter” Brew.

Ever the politician, Floridians and Texans took to the Recruiter like Kris Humphries at a Feminists for Life meeting.

A side-by-side comparison of The Recruiter’s “genius” with Coach Kill’s “aw-shucks” approach clearly exemplifies why closing the borders in-state is the foundation of any successful program.  When The Recruiter was hired, he was cast as just that, a recruiting guru from the national champion University of Texas.  This was the recruiter architect that helped build that team.  And, he promised the masses that he would persuade top, prep talent to brave Minnesota’s winters to play for the Gophers.  Unfortunately, while The Recruiter’s focus was in Florida and Texas, places where the University of Minnesota has less pull than Kris Humphries at a Feminists For Life meeting, the Badgers and other Big Ten schools were supplementing their rosters with the spoils that Minnesota had to offer.

When Coach Kill was hired, his first order of business, aside from moving Marquis Grey back to quarterback, was making a month-long trip around the State of Minnesota to meet with the local high school coaches that he no doubt hopes will feed his program for years to come.  Time and again, those high school coaches left luncheons and other coordinated, elbow-bumping shin-digs with the impression that Coach Kill meant business.  He was reshaping the way the Gophers were viewed in the Minnesota prep community.

His efforts took almost immediately and the results have been almost instantaneous.  According to most talent evaluators, Coach Kill has managed to lock down six of the top eight prep recruits in Minnesota, including the top three prep athletes.  If Coach Kill can continue to build on this success, it will not be long until the Gophers field a squad that can compete in the Big Ten’s Legends, or is it Leaders, Division.  Who knows, after Coach Kill has restored order to the border in Minnesota, maybe he can make his way out of state and do his best Recruiter impression in Florida and Texas.  This Gopher fan is just glad the homegrown talent is staying home.