Jerry Kill seems to turn things around in his third year and that was no different as the Gophers went 8-5 this past season. Everyone around the Big Ten had taken notice of the rise in the Minnesota program under the helm of Coach Kill. Michigan State’s headman in Mark Dantonio was one and he reflects back at their previous game and the improvements he has seen from last season at this year's Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.
The Gophers battled with the Big Ten champs and Rose Bowl champs on the road in a hostile environment last season, but fell 14-3. That day, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio saw the potential and rise in their program.
“I think the University of Minnesota is one of the fastest-improving programs in this conference,” said Dantonio. “Where they have come from, since he (Jerry Kill) has took over, and the respectability that they have gained, I knew that that football game would be one of the toughest games that we would have to play. I knew that they would be a seasoned team by the time they got to us. Their style of play is very similar to ours in a lot of ways, both offensively and defensively. I think he is an excellent coach and motivator. I think his players love him and I think they really think they’ve got things going like this (rising up).”
That Saturday afternoon, the smash mouth and physical play of the Gophers and Spartans were on display as the teams combined for 56 running plays in the game. The defenses were stout and carried that hard-nose mentality that both coaches like to see their teams play with. It was no shocker that Coach Dantonio thought that game was one of the most physical games they played all last year.
“Yeah it was,” said Dantonio. “I think that was the only game last year when we didn’t win the time of possession. They controlled the football on us. They got down in the red zone, but they just didn’t score touchdowns. But the tailback did a nice job of running the football. Is he back? (Yes.) He’s a good player. Offensive line was physical. Very well-coached, and their staff has a lot of continuity, very similar to a lot of things we have.”
“That was a great football game. I knew Minnesota would be a tough game for us because they were structured a little bit like us. They had a commitment to run the football. They were the only team, I believe this year that one the possession time against us. And they won it honestly. We played very good in the red zone, and kept them out of the end zone. We won the football game, but I think the University of Minnesota’s program has gone like this every year that Jerry Kill has been there. He does an excellent job. He has a lot of continuity on his staff. They have done a good job of recruiting, and I think that he is very well liked and respected by his players. I think he is a very good football coach.”
When Dantonio was asked if he sees Minnesota as one of the more improved football teams in the Big Ten, he put it pretty clear and simple.
“Absolutely I do.”