College football: Minnesota waits for bowl destination
The Gophers know they’ll be playing in a bowl game, but the destination has yet to be determined.
Minnesota dropped a 14-3 decision to Michigan State last week to end the regular season with a two-game losing streak. The Gophers are 8-4 overall and finish the Big Ten season with a 4-4 record. Minnesota had won four in a row, but has dropped back-to-back games to Wisconsin and the Spartans.
While nothing will be official until Sunday, it seems likely Minnesota will return to Houston where they played in the Meineke Bowl last season. That game has been renamed the Texas Bowl and will be played on Friday, Dec. 27. The Gophers are also being considered for the Gator Bowl (Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.), the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 28) and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.).
The Gophers are encouraged by the fact they’ve been competitive with Wisconsin and Michigan State the last two weeks. Minnesota lost to the Badgers 20-7 at home before falling short against the Spartans in East Lansing. While Minnesota’s defense has played well enough to win in both games, the offense has been shut down. The Gophers have gone 10 consecutive quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown. The only TD against Wisconsin came on interception return by linebacker Aaron Hill.
Kill knows the coaching staff has some work to do before the bowl game to get the offense to be more productive.
“I think we’re playing two very good defenses,” he said in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But a lot of it has to do with execution, and I think as coaches, we take responsibility. We’ve got to continue to do better and put them in better spots.”
Running back David Cobb agrees with his coach.
“We definitely have a lot of work to do,” he said in the Star Tribune. “We can’t leave our defense on the field like that. The defense played great, and we have to come up with more points.”
Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman thinks the Gophers have made good progress and wants to finish the season on a high note.
“Just the fact that we’ve been able to have this record and play aggressive against ranked teams, I feel like we definitely took a step forward,” he said in the Star Tribune. “The sky’s the limit for the way we’re playing. The seniors had a chip on our shoulder from past years. I feel like we definitely carried the team on and kind of set the tempo for, obviously, the future.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
n RB David Cobb cracked the 100-yard mark against Michigan State’s tough defense. He picked up 101 yards on 27 carries despite leaving the game briefly in the second quarter with a deep cut on his right knee. Cobb has hit the 100-yard mark six times this season and has rushed for 1,111 yards, the most for a Minnesota player since Amir Pinnix gained 1,272 yards in 2006.
n DT Ra’Shede Hageman, who has a team-high 11 tackles for loss, was named first team All-Big Ten. The senior has 34 tackles, including two sacks. Hageman also has broken up eight passes to go along with one fumble recovery, one interception, one blocked field goal and one blocked extra point.
n CB Brock Vereen, who has helped keep the injury-plagued secondary together, has also been named first team All-Big Ten. The senior has 56 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss of yardage, one interception, six pass breakups and one forced fumble. Vereen made the switch from safety to cornerback earlier this season.
n DE Theiren Cockran, named second team All-Big Ten, added to his numbers against Michigan State. He sacked quarterback Connor Cook, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Ra’Shede Hageman. Cockran, a junior, leads the team with 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Our kids — I’m very proud of every single one of them. I thought we played hard. Defensively, we really played good, and offensively we moved the ball. We just didn’t finish drives, and that happens sometimes.” — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, after the Gophers’ 14-3 loss to Michigan State.
Strategy and personnel
Scouting the running game: Minnesota picked up 124 yards on the ground against Michigan State, which has the best rushing defense in the country. The performance came a week after the Gophers rushed for 102 yards versus Wisconsin. Minnesota averages 200.9 rushing yards a game, a total that was padded against some of the weaker opponents on their schedule. The Gophers still need to beef up their offensive line if they’re going to compete against the top teams in the Big Ten.
Scouting the passing game: The Gophers didn’t get much going against Michigan State’s stout defense. Quarterback Philip Nelson completed 6 of 18 passes for 77 yards and threw his first two interceptions since Sept. 28 before leaving the game with a possible concussion. Backup Mitch Leidner completed 3 of 7 seven passes for 48 yards. The offensive line allowed four sacks, with Leidner going down three times. The loss of wide receiver Derrick Engel, who won’t play again this season because of a knee injury, has put a crimp in the passing game the last two weeks.
Scouting the run defense: The problems stopping the run continued against Michigan State when the Gophers gave up 181 yards on the ground. The Spartans averaged 5.8 yards a carry, led by Jeremy Langford who gained 134 yards on 21 carries. Minnesota has allowed 196.6 yards a game the last five weeks, an area that obviously needs to be addressed before the bowl game and prior to next season. The Gophers still don’t match up well against physical offensive lines.
Scouting the pass defense: The Gophers have improved in recent years when it comes to defending the pass, but a lack of big plays hasn’t helped. Defensive end Theiren Cockran and linebacker James Manuel recorded sacks against Michigan State while cornerback Derrick Wells picked off his first pass of the season. The Gophers need to put more pressure on the quarterback, which will help the secondary in pass coverage.
Scouting the special teams: Punter Peter Mortell, who is averaging 42.9 yards a kick, was named honorable mention All-Big Ten. The sophomore has 18 punts inside the 20-yard line and 12 kicks of 50 or more yards. Chris Hawthorne’s 21-yard field goal provided the Gophers’ only points against Michigan State, but he also missed a 38-yard attempt.
n QB Philip Nelson suffered a possible concussion in the fourth quarter against Michigan State. Nelson was hit by defensive end Marcus Rush, who was given a roughing the passer penalty, after throwing an incomplete pass to Isaac Fruechte.
n CB Brock Vereen left the Michigan State game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return.
-TE Drew Goodger sustained a leg injury during the second half against Michigan State.
n WR Derrick Engel had surgery for a torn ACL on Dec. 3. He was injured in practice during Minnesota’s bye week and won’t play in the bowl game.
n OL Caleb Olson has missed the last two games because of a concussion. Foster Bush has started at right guard.
n C Jon Christenson will miss the rest of the season because of a broken left leg. He was injured in the Indiana game and was carted off the field.
n RB Berkley Edwards has yet to play this season after injuring his knee in fall practice. He could get a redshirt year.
n CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun will miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL in his left knee. He’ll get a medical redshirt season and return as a junior next year.