2011 Minnesota Preview
Minnesota LB Gary Tinsley
It's a new era for Golden Gopher football with Jerry Kill appearing to be the right coach for the right program for the right time. With so much returing experience, and with such a strong head man, can this be the year when things finally start to turn around? Can the team make an impact in the Legends? Check out the CFN 2011 Minnesota Preview.
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Jerry Kill doesn't really look like a big time college football coach.
Head coach: Jerry Kill
18th year overall: 127-73
Off. 13, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best Minnesota Players
1. QB MarQueis Gray, Jr.
2. WR Da'Jon McKnight, Sr.
3. TE Eric Lair, Sr.
4. S Kim Royston, Sr.
5. CB/KR Troy Stoudermire, Sr.
6. LB Gary Tinsley, Sr.
7. LB Brendon Beal, Soph.
8. RB Duane Bennett, Sr.
9. LB Mike Rallis, Jr.
10. LB Keenan Cooper, Jr.
Sep. 3 at USC
Sep. 10 New Mexico State
Sep. 17 Miami University
Sep. 24 North Dakota State
Oct. 1 at Michigan
Oct. 8 at Purdue
Oct. 15 OPEN DATE
Oct. 22 Nebraska
Oct. 29 Iowa
Nov. 5 at Michigan State
Nov. 12 Wisconsin
Nov. 19 at Northwestern
Nov. 26 Illinois
It's not like Sandra Bullock is going to get all hot and bothered over him in The Blind Side 2, and he might not come across as a fire-and-brimstone type of leader, but the guy is as good a rebuilder of college football programs as anyone in the game.
More than anything else, he's the anti-Tim Brewster.
Minnesota's last two head coaches, Brewster and Glen Mason, were ultra-slick and were great salesmen. They looked right out of central casting for a Republican presidential candidate and they both talked a great game. However, to some, they came across as used car salesmen, and while Mason was excellent and got canned because he couldn't get the program to a higher level, with a slew of achingly close losses, but Brewster was a disaster from the moment he was hired. He was an out-of-the-box choice who was picked because of his energy and his recruiting skills. Kill was hired because he gets the job done, and he does without any flash.
When looking for a coach who does things "the right way," defined as producing good teams through hard work, emphasizing academics, and coaching better than everyone else, Kill became the perfect fit for a Gopher program.
Not only is Kill terrific at turning programs around, taking Southern Illinois to an elite level and making Northern Illinois unstoppable, but he's also great at getting his players in the classroom. Northern Illinois dominated in the latest Academic Progress Report, finishing third in the nation ahead of Duke, Stanford, and 115 other FBS teams including 95th ranked Minnesota. While that's great, the Gopher program desperately needs wins on the field, too.
Brewster had a lot of faults, but he was a tireless recruiter who did what he could to get as many great athletes as he could to Minneapolis. What he didn't do, though, was put a fence around the state to keep the superstar prospects home, mainly because he didn't give them a reason to stay. Getting a beautiful new stadium is a plus, with NFL-caliber amenities, and being in a large metropolitan area doesn't hurt, but players want to go where the wins will follow. Kill has proven to be able to take what he's given and succeed, and he has better athletes and better players than he ever had at NIU. The cupboard isn't bare, and if Kill is the real deal, there's a chance Minnesota can be the Big Ten's surprise team.
2011 was the year Brewster's recruiting classes were building towards, and especially on defense the experience is there. The pass rush was the worst in the nation and the run defense didn't work, but the linebacking corps has the potential to be phenomenal with former Florida Gator eligible to join the mix of three returning starters. Both defensive tackles are back, all the defensive backs can tackle, and safety Kim Royston returns from missing last year with a broken leg. Kill is a decent defensive coach, and he has nine starters – which includes Royston – to work with.
The Gopher offense succeeded under Glen Mason when the running game was dominant, and Kill's Huskies ripped up the MAC, and Minnesota, with one of the nation's best ground attacks. A good stable of backs is in place to work behind an athletic line, and new starting quarterback MarQueis Gray is in a perfect system for his skill; he'll help put up rushing yards by the chunks. WR Da'Jon McKnight and TE Eric Lair are excellent, there's good depth across the offense, and there's enough explosion to expect more big plays.
Even with all the reasons to be excited, don't start booking tickets for the Big Ten Championship quite yet. Kill is good, but it would take something special to win the Legends. Even so, he has done more with less and he just might be the right coach for the right program at the right time. Minnesota is ready to be good again, and Kill is about to show what he can do with a BCS team.
What to watch for on offense: The maturation of MarQueis. "O.J" Gray is a 6-4, 229-pound athlete who was good enough to be the team's No. 2 receiver last year, despite coming to Minnesota a few years ago as a savior of a dual-threat spread quarterback. Kill likes his quarterbacks to move, but he also wants a downfield passing game. Gray was assumed to have the job no matter what after the graduation of Adam Weber, but the new coaching staff wanted to see if he was ready. He made himself ready. By doing the work and taking the attitude needed, he earned the starting job and this is now his offense and his team. With all the tools, everything is in place, including the players around him, to be a breakout star.
What to watch for on defense: B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E, be aggressive, got to be aggressive. Every defensive coordinator wants his D to fly all over the field and make big plays, even the vanilla ones who don't want to utilize a slew of crazy blitzes, but new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys really means it when he says he wants to get things moving. He has to be creative and inventive considering Minnesota was 120th out of 120 teams when it came to sacking the quarterback, but with six returning starters in the front seven, the experience is there and the athleticism is in place to turn everyone loose into the backfield.
The team will be far better if … Along with coming up with more than just nine sacks, the Gophers have to start running the ball on a regular basis. The offense ran for 485 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games of the year, gaining more than 200 yards against both Middle Tennessee and South Dakota, and ran for over 100 yards just three more times until tearing off 216 yards and three scores in the season finale against Iowa. In the middle eight games of the year, the Gophers ran for just three touchdowns. The UM passing game should be fine, but there are too many decent backs, and Gray is too good a runner, to not control more games on the ground.
The schedule: Welcome to Minnesota, Jerry Kill. Enjoy your opening game at USC. For anyone else, playing New Mexico State, Miami University, and North Dakota State at home means a 3-1 start before starting Big Ten play, but there aren't any givens with the Gophers. Can Kill get revenge over the RedHawk team that beat his NIU squad in the MAC Championship? Can Minnesota beat a team from North Dakota? Those are must wins considering the first two games in the Big Ten are at Michigan and Purdue. Fortunately, there's an off week to prepare for a nasty stretch of top teams getting Nebraska and Iowa at home before going to Michigan State and hosting Wisconsin. Fortunately, there aren't any long stretches of road games, but to have any hope of going to a bowl the Gophers have to take advantage of their home games to come up with a few big upsets.
Best offensive player: Junior QB MarQueis Gray. He has yet to show what he can do as a passer on a regular basis and has only been a factor as a receiver, but he's the playmaker and he's the star the offense needs to work around. WR Da'Jon McKnight is a 6-3, 214-pound target with the talent and skills to be an All-Big Ten performer, and he should work with Gray to get more out of the passing game on a regular basis.
Best defensive player: Senior S Kim Royston. There's a chance that former Florida Gator Brendan Beal could be the new star from somewhere in the linebacking corps, and the coaching staff would LOVE it if an end like D.L. Wilhite could be a pass rushing terror, but it's the return of Royston that should make a big difference. The 5-11, 195-pound former Wisconsin Badger is a great hitter with terrific range, and now he's healthy again after suffering a broken leg.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DE D.L. Wilhite. The season really depends on Gray becoming a star quarterback, but he and the offense will be fine. For a defense that did absolutely nothing to get to the passer, and didn't do enough to get into the backfield, the emergence of Wilhite into more of a steady pass rusher will be a must to improve the rest of the defense. The linebackers don't need to take any more chances than they have to..
The season will be a success if … Minnesota gets to a bowl game. That might not seem like the loftiest of goals, but there aren't any big breaks in conference play and starting out at USC isn't going to help. Beating New Mexico State, Miami University, and North Dakota State at home is a must to form a nice base of wins, and it'll take a few key wins in manageable road games against Purdue and Northwestern, and a home win over Illinois, to make this a good season. A home upset over Iowa or Wisconsin would be nice.
Key game: Oct. 1 at Michigan. With a road game at Purdue and a nasty four game stretch against Nebraska, Iowa, at Michigan State, and Wisconsin, coming up with a tough road win in the conference opener could be vital. The Gophers stunned the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 2005, but are 1-19 in the last 20 battles for the Little Brown Jug. A win would do wonders for the opener of the Kill era in the Big Ten.
2010 Fun Stats:
- 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 7-of-9 (78%) – Minnesota 12-of-25 (48%)
- Rushing Yards: Opponents 2,297 – Minnesota 1,623
- Minnesota 3rd Quarter Scoring: 44 – Minnesota 4th Quarter Scoring: 109
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