Morning Sun
  • SISNEY: Bowl victory would be huge for Kill, Minnesota football

  • Keeping up with the headlines surrounding head coach Jerry Kill and his Minnesota Golden Gopher football team in recent weeks, it’s been hard to not feel great sympathy for the man.

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  • Keeping up with the headlines surrounding head coach Jerry Kill and his Minnesota Golden Gopher football team in recent weeks, it’s been hard to not feel great sympathy for the man.
    Kill suffered an epileptic seizure at halftime of the Michigan State game and missed the second half Nov. 24, not long after “star” wide receiver A.J. Barker not only quit the team but wrote a letter to Kill and the whole wide world detailing why he quit, calling Kill “a master manipulator” over a 4,000-plus word letter which reads more like a diatribe by a petulant teenager.
    Barker posted it online and it went viral with judgments being made left and right on Kill’s character.
    Granted, I realize that I’m not supposed to feel sympathy for Kill, a highly-compensated football coach and one of the bastions of “the establishment.” I’ll be selling my soul to the Man if I defend him.
    The St. Cloud Times reports that basketball coach Tubby Smith and football coach Kill are the highest-paid University of Minnesota employees at $1,891,555 and $1,256,276, respectively. You’re not supposed to feel any sympathy for millionaires, right?
    However, I know otherwise ‘cause I was raised better than that.
    Judging by the length of Barker’s rant, you would think it was penned by a great receiver. No.
    Barker, a walk-on not on scholarship, led the Gophers with 577 yards and seven TDs on 30 receptions through eight games. Of course, it’s doubtful that a Hall of Fame receiver would write such a screed of spleen in the first place.
    I cannot verify one way or another what happened, and I am not reputing what Barker wrote in his open letter.
    I question his tactics. If the letter was meant for Kill, why go public with it in the first place? I mean, after all, what would the reaction have been if Kill had wrote a similar 4,000-word rant about the player before dismissing him from the team. Writing a missive like that does not make Barker the better man.
    Barker’s already transferred to the University of Houston, where he will be immediately eligible to use his final year of eligibility next season. He will have a scholarship with Houston.
    The Cougars, traditionally identified with strong-armed quarterbacks with video game statistics like Andre Ware (1989 Heisman Trophy winner) and David Klinger, went 5-7 in 2012, not good enough for a spot in the parade of bowl games. Five receivers on Houston had more receptions than Barker and in nine games, Dewayne Peace led Houston with 54 receptions.
    Meanwhile, in a story by Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague discussed Kill’s health.
    “The way that I look at it is that this is just an evolving medical issue for him — one in which he is going to continue to pursue options on how to manage it,” Teague said. “I think there’s certainly a lot of hope that the management part will get a lot better as time goes on. You have to find a way to manage it from a medicine standpoint and just a lifestyle standpoint. He’s going to have time in the offseason to do that. I’m confident we’re going to make some big-time progress.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I’m definitely concerned about (Kill’s) health and him getting better. Is there turmoil on the team because of this? Absolutely not. Is there doubt now about him moving forward? Absolutely not. It’s just a matter, for me, about him looking deeper into it. One thing about Jerry, he likes to tackle everything himself. We have to do a better job here of managing around him. As an AD, our relationship is great. But I have to do a better job of helping him. I can take some things off his plate that other coaches can do. But Jerry is a fighter. He doesn’t want to let things go.”
    The Michigan State seizure makes three in Minnesota for Kill, who’s had epilepsy since 1992, after a mild seizure against Northwestern in October and a grand mal seizure against New Mexico State in 2011. After the Michigan State game, Kill came home without a hospital trip.
    Back to the field. The six wins of Minnesota earned the Gophers a spot in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, a game ironically played in Houston against the Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5).
    The Red Raiders recently made news for hiring the 33-year-old Kliff Kingsbury as their new head coach. Kingsbury, the school’s second all-time leading passer, stands as the youngest head coach in a BCS conference and the second-youngest FBS coach behind Matt Campbell of Toledo. The head coach position became open after Tommy Tuberville left for the Cincinnati job.
    Interim head coach Chris Thomsen will coach the bowl game but Kingsbury will be on the sideline; Kingsbury chose to be with his alma mater rather than coach one last game as Texas A&M offensive coordinator in the Cotton Bowl.
    On Christmas Eve, it was announced Texas Tech defensive players Cornelius Douglas (starting defensive back), Chris Payne (linebacker, mostly special teams) and Leon Mackey (backup defensive lineman) will not play in the game Friday after violating undisclosed team rules.
    The Gophers are making their first bowl appearance under Kill and their first since 2009. After four straight losses in bowl games, the Gophers have not won one since a 20-16 win over Alabama in the Music City Bowl (2004). Texas Tech defeated Minnesota 44-41 in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
    Minnesota also played in the 1961 Rose Bowl (Washington 17-7), the 1962 Rose Bowl (21-3 win over UCLA), the 1977 Hall of Fame Bowl (Maryland 17-7), the 1985 Independence Bowl (20-3 over Clemson), the 1986 Liberty Bowl (Tennessee 21-14), the 1999 Sun Bowl (Oregon 24-20), the 2000 Micronpc.com Bowl (N.C. State 38-30), the 2002 Music City Bowl (29-14 win over Arkansas), the 2003 Sun Bowl (31-30 win over Oregon), the 2005 Music City Bowl (Virginia 34-31),the 2008 Insight Bowl (Kansas 42-21) and the 2009 Insight Bowl (Iowa State 14-13).
    That adds up to a 5-9 record in bowl games since 1961.
    Page 3 of 3 - Bowl games and Minnesota football are not exactly synonymous with one another, even under the current system where 70 teams of a possible 120 in the FBS play bowl games each year.
    Neither team would define lighting the world on fire in recent games.
    Texas Tech started its season 4-0 (Northwestern State 44-6, Texas State 58-10, New Mexico 49-14, Iowa State 24-13) but the Red Raiders have lost four of their last five games — losses to Kansas State 55-24, Texas 31-22, Oklahoma State 59-21 and Baylor 52-45 in overtime.
    The only win came against Kansas, 41-34 in double overtime, that Kansas team which finished its season 1-11.
    Minnesota also began 4-0 (UNLV 30-27 in three overtimes, New Hampshire 44-7, Western Michigan 28-23, Syracuse 17-10) and lost three straight before finishing out its regular season with a 2-3 mark its last five (wins over Purdue 44-28 and Illinois 17-3 with losses to Michigan 35-13, Nebraska 38-14 and Michigan State 26-10).
    Texas Tech ranks 12th in the nation in total offense (501 yards per game) and conversely, Minnesota ranks 29th in total defense (nearly 353 yards).
    The Red Raiders are renowned for their passing attack.
    Senior quarterback Seth Doege leads Texas Tech with 3,934 yards and 38 TDs on 349-496 passing. Leading receivers Darrin Moore and Eric Ward combine for 156 receptions for 1,922 yards and 24 TDs — Moore 81 for 948 and 13, Ward 75 for 974 and 11.
    Opponents have passed for 2,142 yards, 13 TDs and 11 INTs on 199-357 against Minnesota this season. Five defenders have at least two interceptions — Aaron Hill, Derrick Wells, Brock Vereen, Michael Carter and Cedric Thompson — but no more than two for a Gopher defense often asked to compensate for an offense rated near the bottom of the FBS in total offense (317.5 yards per game). However, two of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
    In their last game against Michigan State on Nov. 24, the Gophers scored 10 points on an interception return for touchdown and a 48-yard field goal by Jordan Wettstein.
    Minnesota gained only 96 yards of total offense, four through its running attack on 19 carries, averaging 0.2 yards per carry. That rate won’t beat anybody and Minnesota quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Max Shortell combined for four interceptions (Nelson 3, Shortell 1).
    The Minnesota offense needs to do its part to help keep the defense off the field against the dangerous Texas Tech offense. Otherwise, it could be a very long night in Houston for the Gophers.
    With two opponents not exactly setting the world on fire and facing their fair share of recent adversities, naturally oddsmakers have made Texas Tech a 13-point favorite. We’ll see what happens Friday night.
    A win Friday night would be great for the Minnesota football program.
    The Gophers have a chance to be among the 35 teams which end their seasons with bowl game victories, something that should give Minnesota credibility, positivity and visibility moving forward.
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