Touch of Gray

Posted: September 12, 2011 by Kodi in Gopher Redemption, NCAA

 

The Minnesota Golden Gophers may have had one of the most embarrassing losses

under the Jerry Kill regime but there were more serious matters that took place on Saturday. . .

Minnesota traveled to the Coliseum and nearly left Los Angeles with a victory of the top 25 ranked USC Trojans. There was a buzz back in Dinkytown for Gopher Football that hadn’t been on campus for a while and Head Coach Jerry Kill knew he needed to embrace it. He hit the streets handing out free tickets to the Gophers home opener against New Mexico St. and with the promotion of Gopher Football through social media Coach Kill made an immediate positive impact.

Jerry is the type of HC that actually cares about his players and knows how important the fans are to a program’s success. Where Tim Brewster was this ambitious, loud, over the top HC Jerry has come to Minneapolis with a no-nonsense approach to rebuilding the program that Brewster left in shambles. It looked like the Gophers were ready to embrace their home opener and whoop some Aggies ass, but there were more important things in store than just a football game (we’ll get to that later).

The Gophers seemed to have scheduled a cake-walk for their home opener, playing a New Mexico St. team that has won just 5 games in two years. New Mexico St. has a long football tradition playing in their first season in 1893 but just because they have been around for a long time doesn’t mean they’ve been successful. Their last two Conference Championships came in ’76 and ’78 but had a combined record of 10-11-1. They haven’t been to a Bowl Game since appearing in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve 1960 when they defeated Utah St. 20-13.

The Aggies played the Ohio University Bobcats to open their 2011 season and were decimated, down 44-10 at one point but were able to scratch and claw their way to a 44-24 loss. In that game they allowed over 450 total yards of offense including 241 rushing yards. The Aggies offense was completely one dimensional, totaling 368 yards and racking up just 6 rushing yards in the entire game. The Aggies have played teams from the B1G 6 times and have an average margin of defeat of over 49 points.

Minnesota would not be allowed to overlook an opponent like the Aggies and were entering the game on Saturday as 20 point favorites. New Mexico St. is terrible against the run and the Gophers needed to just rely on their RBs to pound at a D-Line that should have been overpowered by Minnesota’s burly O-Line. TCF Bank Stadium was ready and roaring during the pre-game warm-ups chanting “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” and flying a “Kill Squad” banner in the end-zone.

Minnesota honored certain people who were taken away from us due to the events and aftermath of 9/11 as the 10 year anniversary of the terrible event was just a day away. The crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA” as the Gophers honored the friends and family members of U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Harmon and recognized Tom Burnetty Jr. and were surprised by the Northwest Special Operations Warriors who parachuted into “the Bank” with an American and University of Minnesota flag.  They also had a few U.S. Marine Corps officers who had their oaths reaffirmed during a swearing in ceremony during halftime.

By kickoff the crowd was ready to roll but the Aggies won the coin toss because we all know tails never fails and stormed down the field and finished it with a 26 yard TD pass to WR Taveon Rogers. The Aggies needed just 7 plays to put their first TD on the board and QB MarQueis Gray and the Gophers responded with a three and out. Gray looked nervous and seemed to have his first couple of passes sail on him without giving his receivers any chance to make a play.

Gray got it together in the second drive and led his team down to the redzone with a couple of nice throws to WRs Da’Jon McKnight and Brandon Green. Gray scrambled from the 20 for a 12 yard gain but a late hit personal foul call on the Aggies Alexander LaVoy put them at the 4 yardline and it took just one play for RB Lamonte Edwards to pound it in an tie the game at 7. The Gophers stopped the Aggies and started to storm downfield again getting inside the red-zone but a tipped ball thrown from Gray was picked off in the end-zone and New Mexico St had new life.

The Aggies came back and did what they do best, throw the ball, QB Andrew Manley had a 22 yard completion to Todd Lee, a 17 yard catch by Robert Clay and then took a lead on Taveon Rogers 41 yard TD. In 1:18 the Aggies had gone 80 yards and taken the lead and given up 2 TDs to Taveon Rogers who had the same amount of TDs in the entire 2010 season. The Gophers were stunned because nobody expected the Aggies to be doing this to Minnesota, especially not with such a supportive crowd behind them.

MarQueis Gray was Sacked for a 5 yard loss on the first play and after a 14 yard completion on third down the Gophers were faced with 4th and inches. Minnesota tried to pound the ball with short yardage extraordinaire Edwards but the RB was tackled for a 2 yard loss and the Gophers turned the ball over. Manley and the aggies took the field and just 9 plays later the Aggies had extended their lead on a 4 yard TD pass to David Quiroga. For the second straight game the Gophers defense had allowed 3 passing TDs in the first half.

The Gophers responded with yet another three and out but the Gophers defense stepped up big when Andrew Manley’s early success got to his head. Manley tried to loft another ball downfield but this pass seemed more like a floating punt and it just so happened that Gophers return man and starting CB Troy Stoudemire was there to snag the ball and return it 19 yards to give the ball back to Minnesota at their own 41. MarQueis Gray had another chance to get Minnesota back into the game but forced a ball on the first play in the direction of a double covered Da’Jon McKnight and it was picked off by the Aggies for the 2nd time in the half.

New Mexico State got close enough to attempt a 49 yard field goal but ultimately missed the kick at least 8 yards short. Gray seemed more comfortable and was able to march the Gophers down 69 yards and threw his first TD of the game when he connected with Collin McGarry on a 10 yard pass. The Gophers scored with just 8 seconds left in the half and had the momentum slowly churning their way and they got the ball to start the second half.

Minnesota had everything going in their favor coming out of the locker room and Gophers fans hoped that their second-half play would be comparable to their first game at USC. The Aggies kicked off to Troy Stoudemire who returned it 22 yards and with that return he brok the Big Ten Conference career record. By the end of the game he would finish with 3,066 return yards beating the previous mark held by Wisconsin’s David Gilreath. Stoudemire is just behind the current NCAA record held by Tulsa Senior Damaris Johnson’s 3,417 but he will not be adding any return yards to that total as he is suspended indefinitely.

Gray was having hydration issues for the second game in a row and stayed in the locker room to receive an IV. QB Max Shortell was given a chance to show his home crowd what he was made of but it was more of the same from Minnesota. Shortell completed a huge pass to Da’Jon McKnight for 22 yards and Minnesota was charging near the red-zone but their offense fizzled and came away with nothing. Shortell got another chance but led the Gophers to their 4th and 5th three and out and gave the ball back to New Mexico St. still trailing 21-14.

The Gophers defense was struggling to stop the Aggies passing game but with the lead New Mexico St. began to mix in the running game. They still passed the ball effectively and Minnesota was called for a personal foul penalty on a 17 yard reception and then another 13 yard penalty on a pass interference. The Aggies tried to throw it in from the 2 yard line but after Manley’s pass was broken up and nearly intercepted they gave the ball to RB Robert Clay who ran in for the TD and increased the lead to 28-14.

MarQueis Gray came back out and replaced Shortell at QB and started what Gophers fans hoped was a 4th quarter comeback. Gray used his legs well scrambling for decent yardage but got lucky a few times fumbling the football but retaining possession. Gray hooked up with McKnight for a big 35 yard catch that also received a defensive pass interference call but the sure handed WR came down with the ball and put the Gophers at the 8 yard marker and knocking on the front door. A pass interference call gave the Gophers a first down at the 2 yard line but after a few failed rush attempts Gray went back to McKnight and found him for a 4 yard TD pass and the Gophers were down a single TD with 11:47 left to play.

The tide had completely turned when CB Brock Vereen intercepted Manley and the Gophers got the ball back at the 33 yard mark and were very close to tying the game. Minnesota ran the ball 7 times in a row, including a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line but RB Lamonte Edwards was stuffed and the Gophers came away with nothing. The Aggies spent the next drive running the ball and killing a lot of clock getting off 12 plays and accumulating 53 yards but running 5:25 off the clock and the Gophers didn’t get the ball back until 2:11 with no timeouts.

Gray had a big task ahead of him, he was in charge of leading his team from his own 11 all the way down field to tie this game. Gray did an admirable job running when he had to and completing short sure thing passes working his team down to the 25 yard line. The Gophers were oh so close to tying the game and Gray tried to stretch the field on 3rd down tossing a deep ball down the west sidelines intended for McKnight but the pass was ultimately incomplete. Then it happened.

Head Coach Jerry Kill collapsed on the sideline and there was utter confusion of whether or not someone had run into the HC on the previous play. Coach Kill was surrounded by personnel who looked to be holding him down and upon further review of the TV broadcast you caught a quick glimpse of the severity of the situation. The broadcast showed a quick sight of a violently seizing Jerry Kill and appropriately they quickly pulled the camera’s away from the Gophers HC. The crowd was utterly silent, the Gophers players were huddled in a prayer circle, many players and fans were crying and nobody had any clue.

Head Coach Kill has had a battle with seizures for some time, especially after his successful fight against Kidney Cancer. He has been on a medication regiment that has worked effectively in the last few years but it is a daily battle with the HC. Kill has had episodes before at previous institutions but never has anyone seen an event like what took place Saturday at the Bank. It was extremely hot all day at the stadium and that could have played into HC Kill’s scary event but as Minnesota team Dr. Pat Smith said “He has a history of them since his cancer . . . There is a history of trouble with dehydration and heat seems to kick that up . . . We have to do a better job as a medical staff keeping him hydrated”.

Coach Kill was down for what seemed like forever but was a mere 20-25 minutes before he was carted off to the crowd cheering “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” like they had opened the game with. The severity of the event had completely put the football game in perspective and people were more worried about their new HC than the events of Saturdays game. I have no idea how the Minnesota players were able to muster up enough courage and strength to get back on the field and try to win the game for their Coach.

They were faced with 4th and 10 and Gray slipped but still tried to get rid of the ball hoping for some sort of miracle. The ball rainbowed up into the air and fell to the ground after being tipped by a few opposing players. The Aggies offense came back onto the field and knelt the ball to end the game with a 28-21 loss for the Gophers but a bigger loss because of the severity of the situation with their HC. The Aggies haven’t won a lot of games and it was clear when their players were jumping up and down on the field and even going as far as giving their HC a Gatorade bath, similar to the ones that take place after big Bowl Game victories. Just because the Aggies haven’t won a lot before doesn’t mean they shouldn’t act like it when it does happen, ESPECIALLY after what took place on the Gophers sideline just minutes before.

The Gophers had just 17 rushing yards at halftime against a team that gave up nearly 250 rushing yards to a University that doesn’t have nearly as much talent as the Gophers. It is understandable that the kids were nervous playing in front of their home crowd but that shouldn’t have kept them from winning the game. The pass defense was torched again allowing Manley to throw for 288 yards and 3 first half TDs but what was really surprising was the Aggies ability to run the ball. They had just 6 total rushing yards in their last game but tallied 133 rush yards as a team against the Gophers, led by Clay’s 97 yards and a TD.

MarQueis Gray had a decent game finishing 16 of 32 for 211 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs and 17 carries for 110 yards. Gray’s accuracy was an issue yet again but the athletic QB was constantly pressured by a pass defense that isn’t known for its burst. The Gophers seem to shift the O-Line and have Gray move around and boot out of the pocket often but I think they need to just let him be a QB. He is athletic and showed that he can make big plays but he should be allowed to sit in the pocket and make some reads, then if he isn’t able to find his first or second option, roll out of the pocket and use his legs.

The biggest upside for the Gophers was WR Da’Jon McKnights career day, hauling in a career high 9 catches for 146 yards and a TD. Ultimately the Gophers know what they need to do on offense and defense it’s just a matter of producing on the field, not just in practice. After the game Offensive Coordinator Matt Limegrover said “we know what the course of action is and we told them that. I think the worst thing they can do is do something that’s counter to what we’re trying to build and develop here. Coach Kill talks about it all the time. He says we’re going to build this thing on concrete mot sand”.

The Gophers are in dire need of a strong foundation and HC Kill is just the person to rebuild this program but his health is the most important thing. He has had 2 episodes in the past and has returned to the sideline the following week both times, but he has left an impact on his players. RB Duane Bennett explained that “[players] were scared, but at the same time we know that it has happened before . . . The biggest thing is to make sure that everyone is together on the same page . . . We don’t want to go out there and do something temporary that would affect the team”.

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