Kill Says Gophers Are Making Progress

Progress is in the eye of the beholder. And Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill thinks his team is headed in the right direction.

Minnesota's 31-24 loss to Michigan State dropped the Gophers to 2-7 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten. While Minnesota fell to last place in the Legends Division, the expected blowout against the heavily favored Spartans never materialized. The Gophers took a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter before Michigan State scored the final 10 points.

After watching his team upset Iowa the previous week and go toe-to-toe with the Spartans, Kill believes his squad is making progress.

"We are working to improve our program and move it forward," he said. "I think we're doing some of that. I think our kids are plenty motivated and play hard. They just made eight or nine plays that we didn't and that was the difference."

The Gophers were in a position to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but had one drive stopped on downs and their last bid ended when quarterback MarQueis Gray was intercepted. Minnesota more than held its own on both sides of the ball.

The Gophers gained 415 yards against the nation's No. 2 ranked defense that was holding opponents to 228.8 yards per game. Minnesota's defense held Michigan State to 106 yards rushing, recovered a fumble and had two sacks.

"We gave ourselves a good chance to win," Kill said. "I think we are definitely getting better. We found a way to win last week. I just wish we would have done the same this week."

The Gophers were outscored 144-31 in consecutive losses to Michigan, Purdue and Nebraska, but have been more than competitive the last two games. The team is gaining confidence, which will come in handy when Wisconsin visits TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

"It gave myself and my team a lot of confidence," Gray said. "We know that we can play with anybody if we play for four quarters and do what we are supposed to do."


--The Gophers opened the scoring on MarQueis Gray's 64-yard touchdown pass to Da'Jon McKnight at the 11:02 mark of the first quarter. It was only the second time this season Minnesota has scored the game's first points. The other came against North Dakota State in the fourth game of the season. Minnesota's 14-7 lead after one quarter was only the second time it has led after the opening period. That also came in the North Dakota State game.

--The Gophers drove 8:26 for a field goal late in the second quarter, their longest scoring drive of the season in time of possession.

--Minnesota's poor third down conversion rates turned around on both sides of the ball against Michigan State. The Gophers were 6-of-14 on third downs, after coming into the game 34-of-102. The defense allowed 4-of-13 on third downs, after entering the game 49-of-105.

--Running back Devon Wright returned against Michigan State after missing the previous three games because of a hamstring injury. He had no carries and was called for a roughing the punter penalty in the third quarter.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Da'Jon McKnight -- He showed his big-play ability against Michigan State with three touchdown catches, including a 64-yarder from quarterback MarQueis Gray in the first quarter. McKnight had nine receptions for 173 yards, both career highs. The senior has 15 career touchdown catches and is tied for fifth on the Gophers' career TD receptions list.

LOOKING GOOD: The defense, which had been gouged by the run all season, held Michigan State to 106 yards rushing. The Gophers came in allowing 201.8 rushing yards a game and 5.31 yards per carry. Minnesota, which had recorded eight sacks in the first eight games, had two against the Spartans. The defensive line has played well the last two weeks, which has given the Gophers a chance to stay in games.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Coach Jerry Kill's decision to go for it on fourth down and 10 from the Michigan State 48-yard line with 4:16 remaining backfired and ended any realistic chance the Gophers had to tie the game. Running back Duane Bennett missed a blitzing linebacker, which forced quarterback MarQueis Gray to hurry his pass that sailed out of bounds. Minnesota had one timeout left and Kill should have called for a punt to pin Michigan State back. The defense held, but the Gophers ended up with the ball on their own 10 with 2:28 to play with no timeouts. Minnesota drove to Michigan State's 45, but Gray was intercepted with 14 seconds remaining.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He played awfully well. I think at the end of the game he was physically exhausted and gave everything he had, but that's how you learn." -- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, on quarterback MarQueis Gray.



QB MarQueis Gray -- The junior had a solid all-around game against Michigan State. He completed 19-of-33 passes for a career-high 287 yards and three touchdowns, another career best. Gray also ran for 70 yards on 21 carries. He threw two interceptions, including one that was costly in the third quarter with Minnesota leading 24-21 when he was picked off at his own 31-yard line.

K Jordan Wettstein -- Filling in again for the injured Chris Hawthorne, the junior walk-on hit a 27-yard field goal and all three of his extra-point attempts against Michigan State. He has made both of his field goal tries and all four extra points the last two games.

LB Mike Rallis -- The senior led Minnesota with nine tackles against Michigan State. He's third on the team with 59 tackles.

WR Ge'Shun Harris -- The junior recorded his first career catch on a 28-yard touchdown reception in third quarter.


--WR/KR Marcus Jones will miss the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.

--K Chris Hawthorne missed his second straight game because of a sore quad muscle.

--CB/KR Troy Stoudermire has missed the last five games because of a fractured left wrist.

--LG Tommy Olson didn't play against Michigan State because of a sprained ankle. He was injured in the Iowa game.

--OL Ryan Orton missed the Michigan State game because of back spasms.

--LB Brendan Beal missed his second straight game because of a knee injury.

--OL Josh Campion is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a concussion.

--DE Harold Legania has missed the last four games because of a foot injury.

--OT Jimmy Gjere has missed the last five games because of a concussion.

--DE Leston Simpson has missed the last four games because of a head injury.

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories