Last Saturday’s upset win over Michigan in Ann Arbor was unusually emotional for Gophers coach Jerry Kill who immediately after the game gave a long hug to his wife Rebecca and then praised seizure specialist Dr. Brien Smith. Kill told ABC sideline analyst Jeannine Edwards the doctor “saved my career.”
In 2013 the Gophers had also been in Ann Arbor when on the morning of the October 5 game Kill suffered an epileptic seizure. He has had a number of seizures but this was the first causing him to miss coaching a game. He also didn’t coach the following game two weeks later, and while he eventually returned to game day coaching last season it was from the press box and not the sidelines.
With a history of seizures, including at Minnesota where he started coaching in 2011, Kill drew criticism from media and fans last year who questioned whether the coach’s health should prompt his resignation. He responded by taking a leave of absence to again confront his challenge with epilepsy and seizures.
Kill turned to Smith, a nationally recognized authority on treatments for seizures. Last week Smith talked to Mlive.com reporter Sue Thoms for a September 27 story about Kill. “I think he just realized, yes, I have to monitor the situation because I can’t push the envelope too far,” Smith said.
Kill has made changes with medication and in his lifestyle including management of stress, according to the story. Close associates and other observers have praised his renewed health. His progress, of course, doesn’t come with guarantees that he will not have future seizures.
Smith knows the concern is ongoing for those afflicted with seizures. “It can be challenging, and it’s not always an easy fix for everyone,” Smith said. “In many cases, it’s trial and error with different medications and making other adjustments. You have to keep plugging away at it and fix the things you can fix.”
During his TV interview with Edwards, Kill gratefully acknowledged the role of Rebecca. Kill said without her support, including willingness to let her husband continue his career, he wouldn’t be coaching.
Kill’s mother was at the game and that added to the emotional scene in Michigan Stadium. She witnessed the Gophers’ first win over the Wolverines since 2005 and only the fourth victory dating back to 1977. It was a milestone win for Kill who preaches all the time he coaches “for the kids” and the victory eased the frustration of 58-0 and 42-13 losses in Ann Arbor in 2011 and 2013.
The Gophers won back the Little Brown Jug, college football’s oldest rivalry trophy. Kill wants Minnesota fans that haven’t seen the jug to have that opportunity. Tonight and Thursday evening the jug will be on display in the T. Denny Sanford Athletics Hall of Fame at TCF Bank Stadium from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Kill told Sports Headliners yesterday that people who haven’t seen him for awhile remark about how much better he looks. “I’ve worked hard to walk everyday—get some time to myself everyday,” Kill said. “Still working the same (long) hours but just being smarter about it. Doing the best I can to sleep. It’s hard during the season but I am doing the best I can. It’s all good at the end of the day. I am doing all the things that Doc Smith told me to do.”
Dan O’Brien, the Gophers associate athletic director who works closely with the football program, knows too that epilepsy means there’s never guarantees seizures won’t reoccur but the last 12 months have been positive. “He hasn’t had any (seizures) since right after that Michigan game (2013) when they started a new treatment plan,” O’Brien said.
Kill and his team stumbled a year ago in Michigan. Last Saturday he and the Gophers triumphed, celebrating a kind of double win on and off the field—partially thanks to a doctor from the Wolverine State.
Big Ten Power Rankings
Here’s how Sports Headliners sees the 14 Big Ten teams after five weeks of mostly nonconference action but also league games for all but three schools.
1. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0)—Spartans are the class of the Big Ten and worthy of their top 10 national ranking with a high scoring offense, tough defense and tougher coach in Mark Dantonio.
2. Ohio State (3-1, 0-0)—Buckeyes fail to impress defensively but offense coming along nicely without injured quarterback Braxton Miller who is out for the season but coach Urban Meyer says is the starter in 2015.
3. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0)—Badgers inconsistent so far and LSU loss will haunt this team all year, but love that running game led by Wisconsin native Melvin Gordon.
4. Nebraska (5-0, 1-0)—Cornhuskers on a sugar binge after devouring all those cupcakes and first test comes Saturday at Michigan State—wonder if coach Bo Pelini will bring his cat for good luck.
5. Iowa (4-1, 1-0)—Hawkeyes have won two games by a total of eight points and lost one by three while playing tough in the trenches (as usual). U student body already practicing “We hate Iowa cheer” in anticipation of November 8 game in Minneapolis.
6. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0)—The Gophers will need the same kind of passing from quarterback Mitch Leidner and offensive line play shown in the Michigan game to become real contenders in the West Division race, but that’s not an impossible task.
7. Maryland (4-1, 1-0)—The Terps have only a game-ending loss to West Virginia but we will know a lot more after Saturday when they host Ohio State in a game that could be trouble for the Buckeyes.
8. Penn State (4-1, 1-1)—PSU fans now know new coach James Franklin doesn’t walk on water after the Nittany Lions lost to so-so Northwestern last Saturday, again showing a dismal run game that might make the late Joe Paterno hold his nose.
9. Rutgers (4-1, 0-1)—The feisty Scarlet Knights, formerly from the not so famous American Athletic Conference, have been better as a Big Ten member than most expected and have away from home wins over Washington State and Navy. Gotta give a wink to a school whose football alums include Ozzie Nelson.
10. Northwestern (2-2, 1-0)—Coach Pat Fitzgerald received major contributions from freshmen in last weekend’s dominating 29-6 win at Penn State and the Cats could give the Gophers an alley fight in Minneapolis a week from Saturday.
11. Michigan (2-3, 0-1)—Coach Brady Hoke, who won 11 games in 2011, is 9-9 in his last 18 games, and his seat is the warmest in college football while more seats are going empty in 109,901 capacity Michigan Stadium.
12. Indiana (2-2, 0-1)—The stumbling Big Ten image got such a lift from the Hoosiers’ miraculous road win over SEC member Missouri on September 20 that I don’t have the heart to rate them any lower in the power rankings than 12th although they might deserve it.
13. Illinois (3-2, 0-1)—Illinois has one of the league’s better quarterbacks in newcomer Wes Lunt and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is talented but Illinois is in for a long season including a probable fourth consecutive loss to the Gophers on October 25.
14. Purdue (2-3, 0-1)—The Boilermakers play at Illinois on Saturday in a game that will cheer up one of these two downtrodden programs and probably give the scoreboard a workout since Purdue is yielding 27.8 points per game, the Illini 35.
Weekend analysis and notes on the Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers and Twins.
Rick Spielman was under plenty of scrutiny last winter but yesterday at TCF Bank Stadium the Vikings general manager looked like a football savant. Spielman draft choices, including rookies Teddy Bridgewater and Jerick McKinnon, led a parade of explosive plays as the Vikings out-scored the Falcons 41-28 to even their record at 2-2.
Spielman was on the spot going into the NFL Draft last spring after quarterback Christian Ponder, his first round pick in the 2011 draft, faltered in 2013 after helping the Vikings to the playoffs the previous season. Spielman chose Bridgewater late in the first round this year, even though most other teams passed on the Louisville quarterback who yesterday in his first pro start passed for 317 yards and led the Vikings offense to its best day of the season. And it was also last spring that Spielman chose an obscure running back from Georgia Southern named McKinnon in the third round. He came off the bench against the Falcons to run for 135 yards.
Receiver Jarius Wright almost matched McKinnon’s 135 yards, coming up with a career high 132 yards on eight catches. Spielman chose Wright on the fourth round of the 2012 draft and his speed blends perfectly with a giddy-up gang of young offensive talent.
That group of playmakers includes Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the NFL’s most explosive talents for catching passes and returning kickoffs. Yesterday Patterson, who probably drew extra preventive attention from the Falcons’ defense, caught two passes for 38 yards and averaged 43 yards on two kickoff returns. Patterson is one of three No. 1 draft choices Spielman maneuvered to obtain in 2013.
The Vikings showed off a think fast, move faster attack yesterday. Bridgewater processed his decisions like a veteran—sometimes tip-toed and sometimes ran away from pressure—and consistently released the football quickly and with accuracy. Several times he took off and ran with impressive foot speed, complementing the track-like acceleration and high speed motoring to McKinnon, Wright and Patterson.
Another leg came in handy yesterday, too—the right leg of third-year placekicker Blair Walsh. Yup, another Spielman find. Walsh was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft and replaced veteran Ryan Longwell whose leg strength was no match for Walsh. In the win over the Falcons, Walsh made four of five field goals including one from 55 yards.
The Vikings offensive line was outstanding, making it possible for the flashy playmakers to score points. And while the defense had its struggles, it was resilient enough to shut out the Falcons in the fourth quarter after Atlanta had started the period with a 28-27 lead. The Vikings made a habit of blowing games in the fourth quarter last year but that looks like a problem solved. “We hung in there and we fought,” head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN Radio after the game.
For now why scrutinize the meltdowns of last year or Spielman’s hot seat last winter? Not after yesterday when the Vikings young offensive talent had too much juice for the Falcons.
The Timberwolves open training camp this week and players will hear owner Glen Taylor refer to Adrian Peterson. The Vikings running back allegedly abused his four-year-old son and is facing criminal charges. During the first week of training camp Taylor always talks to players about the importance of their personal conduct.
In the past Taylor’s topics included spousal abuse but not child abuse. “We hadn’t even thought of that,” he told Sports Headliners.
The NFL has provided newsmaking examples about assaults, shootings, drinking and drugs. Hornets NBA forward Jeffery Taylor, who is being kept away from his team as he awaits an October 8 court date on domestic assault charges, is a reminder that pro basketball isn’t immune from issues.
Taylor will cover various subjects in his talk including how important it is for players to be involved with the community, and also respectful toward fans. He mentioned a potential situation where a player could find himself with a fan that has had too much alcohol. “You just have to learn to walk away,” Taylor said.
Twice in the past Taylor was interested in buying the Vikings. The last time was before the Wilf family acquired the club from Red McCombs in 2005. The NFL told Taylor what it believed the franchise was worth but the Wilfs and their group of investors were willing to pay more. “I think I bid like $525 (million) and I think theirs was closer to $600 (million), and I didn’t counter,” Taylor said.
Timberwolves rookie Andrew Wiggins is popular in Lawrence, Kansas and the Kansas City area because of his freshman phenom season for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2013-2014. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Wolves hosted an exhibition game in Kansas City in the coming years. The Missouri city was once home to the NBA’s Kings and has interest in acquiring a team again.
The Gophers’ win over Michigan Saturday was the 25th for Minnesota in the rivalry that started in 1892. The Gophers have now won more times in Ann Arbor, 13, than in Minneapolis, 12. Michigan leads the all-time series, 73-25-3.
Minnesota, 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, will probably be favored by odds-makers to win each of its next three games—at home against Northwestern and Purdue, and then at Illinois. The Gophers could be undefeated in the Big Ten going into the Iowa game in Minneapolis on November 8. Iowa is a favorite to win the Big Ten West Division but the Gophers prompted some notice as a factor in the division race by defeating Michigan.
The Purdue game on October 18 will be part of the 100th Homecoming celebration at the University of Minnesota.
The public season tickets renewal percentage for Gophers men’s basketball for the 2014-2015 season is more than 95 percent. If Minnesota impresses during the nonconference schedule it wouldn’t be surprising to see nearly all of the Big Ten games at Williams Arena sell out.
Condolences to the family of former Gopher Jed Dommeyer who passed away earlier this month. Dommeyer led the Gophers in scoring during the 1955-1956 season averaging 19 points per game.
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer finished the 2014 season with four home runs in 455 at bats. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner had four homers in 66 at bats. Jim Kaat, perhaps the best hitting Twins pitcher in club history, hit three home runs in 83 at bats in 1964, according to Baseball-reference.com.
Former Twins players who had productive seasons included first baseman Justin Morneau who won the National League batting title with a .319 average playing his first season with the Rockies. Ex-Twin Michael Cuddyer, now a Rockies teammate, won the NL title last year. Former Twins center fielders Ben Revere and Denard Span finished fifth and sixth in the National League batting race with averages of .306 and .302. The two tied for the league lead in hits with 184 each. Revere was third in stolen bases with 49, and Carlos Gomez, another ex-Twins center fielder, had 34 to finish fourth. Span, with 31, was fifth.
No one close to the Twins will be surprised if a decision comes this week on manager Ron Gardenhire’s future. He has a record of 199 wins and 291 losses the last four seasons, losing more than 90 games per year. Gardenhire has one season remaining on his contract.
Gophers fans have learned to treasure rare wins against Michigan, including in Ann Arbor where Minnesota plays the Wolverines tomorrow in a game TV viewers from Minneapolis-St. Paul will see on ABC. The opinion here is the Gophers’ chances are 50-50 to earn one of those once-in-a-generation moments tomorrow at Michigan Stadium—the famous 109,901 capacity “Big House.”
The Gophers won in Ann Arbor in 1962 and haven’t exactly been greedy there since, with victories also in 1986 and 2005. During the last 50 years—home and away—the schools have played against each other every season except two, and the Gophers have defeated Michigan only five times, claiming the famous Little Brown Jug trophy awarded to the winning team.
There have been years when the Wolverines were so vastly superior to the Gophers in coaching and personnel that Minnesota fans might have enjoyed a more pleasant afternoon cleaning their showers. But tomorrow the Gophers will take the field in Michigan Stadium with a coaching staff and a roster of talent that compares more favorably to the Wolverines than in the recent past.
Michigan is 2-2 with wins over bad teams and embarrassing losses to Notre Dame, 31-0, and Utah, 26-10. In the two defeats the Wolverines didn’t produce an offensive touchdown and they enter tomorrow’s game with a quarterback dilemma after senior starter Devin Gardner was replaced by sophomore Shane Morris during the Utah loss.
College football’s winningest program appears shaky. After four games, critics are calling for head coach Brady Hoke’s job. His record the last 30 games is 17-13. That’s not up to Michigan standards and if the Gophers build a sizeable lead in the game the stadium boo-birds will be noticeable.
After last week’s loss to Utah, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo expressed concern about the body language of Michigan players. He also observed a lack of full effort in some situations.
The best scenario for the Gophers will be a successful start in the game and double-digit lead by halftime. That could help demoralize the Michigan defense, the strength of the team. The Wolverines are No. 1 among Big Ten clubs in total defense allowing 261 yards per game.
The Gophers’ strength is also on defense so forcing the Michigan offense into costly turnovers might turn the game Minnesota’s way. So, too, could Minnesota special teams work where success might come from blocking a punt, field goal attempt, or having a long kick return.
The Gophers’ offense was muted against the one quality team Minnesota, 3-1, has played so far. TCU held the Gophers to 268 total yards, including only 99 yards rushing in a 30-7 win in Fort Worth.
For the season the Gophers’ passing offense ranks last in the Big Ten, producing 99.8 yards per game. Minnesota is fourth in rushing offense at 236.2 yards while Michigan’s defense is allowing only 80.2 yards.
Much has been written about Minnesota’s inability to pass with success. Freshman quarterback Chris Streveler completed just one throw in last week’s 24-7 win against San Jose State, but has kept a positive attitude—even joking about it and receiving some good-natured kidding. “Yeah, some of my buddies in class have been like, ‘Nice completion or whatever.’ It’s just funny,” Steveler said. “I like to joke around about it because we got the win so it doesn’t really matter, to be honest. …”
The Gophers have their own quarterback puzzle with Streveler and Mitch Leidner who is definitely the No. 1 starter but might not play tomorrow because of injuries. Whoever plays may give the Gophers improved passing but don’t expect to be dazzled because baby steps seem more likely and receivers, not just quarterbacks, need to step up.
The oddsmakers have the Wolverines as a double-digit favorite to win and that looks off target. A low scoring, close game seems more likely. The Gophers’ chances of winning may come down to better preparation, more will and focus than the Wolverines.
Those are attributes associated with Gophers head coach Jerry Kill who is admired by coaching peers. An ESPN.com poll of FBS coaches announced last week had Kill tied with Kansas State’s Bill Snyder for most underrated coach in the country.
When teams feel prepared, players have confidence. Maybe the Gophers are ready. “It would be good to go in there and steal one from Michigan,” said Gophers junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. “We watched them on film. I said they’re good and we’re good too. But I think we have a really good shot to win this weekend.”
Kill and the Gophers would like to start changing wins against the Wolverines to more than a once-in-a-generation thing.
Gophers’ senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli is a team leader and was asked if Minnesota takes extra confidence going into tomorrow’s game because the Big Ten has been unimpressive in nonconference competition and Michigan has a 2-2 record.
“I feel like we always have confidence in our team no matter how well or how poor the rest of the conference is doing,” he said. “Just because they’re 2-2 doesn’t mean anything to us. Michigan is a good team and they’re going to be physical and fast so we need to prepare hard this week no mater what our opponents’ record is. …We’re ready for a fight.”
Streveler is the Big Ten’s Co-Freshmen of the Week for his 161 yards rushing performance against San Jose State—the third highest total ever by a Minnesota quarterback. Streveler’s success, and that of running back David Cobb, who rushed for 207 yards, was enhanced by the quarterback understanding whether the best decision was to hand the ball off to Cobb or run with it himself.
Gophers’ offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Steveler, despite being inexperienced and making his first college start, made defensive “reads” as effective as any quarterback he has coached at Minnesota or before that at Northern Illinois. “He did a fantastic job,” Limegrover said. “Everything they threw at him—handled it like a vet—which was great to see.”
The Gophers have lacked consistency at the quarterback position for awhile but a program insider said Kill hasn’t pursued junior college quarterbacks, preferring to develop his own players over their four or five year careers. That formula worked with considerable success at Northern Illinois when Kill and his assistants found under-recruited talents Jordan Lynch and Chandler Harnish.
Rookie Teddy Bridgewater gets his first NFL start on Sunday when the Vikings play the Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium. He will be the second youngest Vikings quarterback ever to start a game for the team. Fran Tarkenton, 21 years, 226 days, was the youngest, while Bridgewater will be 21 years and 322 days on Sunday.
Suspended running back Adrian Peterson, who has the biggest contract on the team and a tarnished reputation, will miss his third consecutive game and likely will never play for the Vikings again. As the Vikings navigate the local political, business and social scene here, it seems highly improbable they will keep a 29-year-old running back who is expensive and controversial. Peterson, though, is all but certain to some day play with another NFL club.
Detroit Lakes native and wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was on the Vikings practice squad last year, had his first career start last Sunday against the Saints but didn’t catch a pass.
Vikings-Falcons connections include Mike Tice and Ra’Shede Hagemen. Tice, the former Vikings head coach, is the Falcons offensive line coach while Hagemen, the former Gopher, is a rookie reserve defensive tackle.
Saint John’s running back Sam Sura, averaging an MIAC-leading 180.7 rushing yards per game and five touchdowns, will test St. Thomas’ defense tomorrow when the Johnnies and Tommies renew their rivalry in St. Paul before an anticipated crowd of 10,000 fans. The Tommies have the league’s top-ranked defense, allowing 8.5 points and 263 yards per game. Saint John’s is 2-1 overall, 0-1 in the MIAC while St. Thomas, 2-0, plays its league opener tomorrow.
Congratulations to Marshall High School football coach Terry Bahlmann who won his 200th career game last week. Bahlmann has a career record of 200-91 over 31 years of coaching including at three high schools in Iowa.
The WCHA made the right hire earlier this year when Bill Robertson agreed to become commissioner. His business skills, including marketing expertise, will be a major asset for the WCHA which announced an exclusive partnership with FOX Sports North this week to telecast the 2015 WCHA Final Five. The network will provide live telecasts from the Xcel Energy Center for all three games of next year’s Final Five: Two semifinal games on Friday, March 20 and the Broadmoor Trophy championship game on Saturday, March 21. Tournament ticket packages go on sale starting at noon Monday with availability at the Xcel Energy Center and via Ticketmaster.
Offseason workouts are generating optimism about the 2014-2015 Gophers basketball team. Minnesota might finish among the top six teams in the Big Ten Conference and possibly make an NCAA Tournament run. Richard Pitino, the Gophers 32-year-old head coach, is a taskmaster and pushes his players hard.
State prep basketball authority Ken Lien was pleased to see Pitino receive a verbal commitment from DeLaSalle guard Jarvis Johnson for the Gophers’ 2015 recruiting class. “I am excited to watch Jarvis play at the U because he’s got tremendous quickness, not only north and south, but great lateral quickness,” Lien said. “He will be fun to watch defending people. …He’s going to have to improve his shooting—and the ball handling—to be able to run the fast break the way Pitino wants them to run.”
Former Gopher Oto Osenieks, who gave up his career last winter with a season of eligibility remaining because of a knee injury, is in graduate school taking sports management classes and helping with the basketball program.
The Timberwolves begin training camp in Mankato next week and team owner Glen Taylor will continue the team tradition of hosting players for dinner at his house on October 3. His wife Becky, with help from her daughters, will make enough lasagna to feed a group of players, coaches and other staff at the Taylor home in Mankato. “She’s a typical Minnesota housewife and loves to take care of her family,” Taylor said. “She’s got a big family, and it just gets extended when the players come down (to Mankato).”