Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Golden Gophers finished with the requisite six wins
needed to become bowl eligible last season. However, the team also endured a
pair of three-game losing streaks that sapped any momentum.
After a 4-0 start, they suffered consecutive losses to Iowa, Northwestern and
Wisconsin, while scoring only 13 points in each contest. They also went on to
lose to Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State, finishing 2-6 in conference
Still, the Golden Gophers notched enough victories to earn a date with Texas
Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. They put up a good fight in that game but
ultimately lost, 34-31, on a last-second field goal.
Despite the end result, head coach Jerry Kill liked the brand of hard-nosed
football his team put on the field, and he has used that as a stepping stone
into the 2013 campaign.
At the Big Ten Media Day, coach Kill also provided a positive update about his
ongoing bout with epilepsy, which caused him to be hospitalized following a
loss to Northwestern on Oct. 13. He also missed the second half against
Michigan State after suffering another seizure in the locker room at halftime.
"I'm doing great. Things are going great for me," Kill said. "I've got a great
doctor that is a specialist in epilepsy. And I've been doing great, looking
forward to the season, and I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life."
OFFENSE: Minnesota ranked 94th in the nation in points per game (22.08) and
108th in total offense (321.4 ypg), and the offensive line was hit with some
injuries over the summer. Still, the team is awfully deep in the trenches, and
a total of 10 starters are slated to return on the offensive side of the ball.
The most integral of those starters is quarterback Philip Nelson, who gained
valuable experience last season stepping in for injured starter MarQueis Gray.
"We pulled the redshirt off of Philip in the middle of the year," coach Kill
said. "And he certainly played valuable time for us in the last six ball games
and did very well. It was a great growing process for him. I think it leads us
in to this season where we're not trying to break somebody in."
Kill also has a pair of big, strong backs in Donnell Kirkwood (925 yards) and
Rodrick Williams (261 yards). Kill likened that duo to something of a
throwback to the physical-style running backs who have come through the
DEFENSE: The Gophers were a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2012, and the
competition only gets tougher in 2013.
Lost from this unit, among others, is end D.L. Wilhite, who led the team in
sacks and tackles for loss. But along the interior, senior tackle Ra'Shede
Hageman (35 tackles, 6.0 sacks) returns and is coming off an All-Big Ten
Aaron Hill (74 tackles, 2 INT) is the only holdover at linebacker, although
the team did recruit heavily at the position. In the secondary, both of last
year's starting cornerbacks are gone, including Michael Carter, who led the
team with four picks and 15 pass breakups. Derrick Wells moved from safety to
corner in the offseason after notching 74 tackles and a pair of interceptions,
while Brock Vereen (64 tackles, 2 INT) and Cedric Thornton (43 tackles) assume
both safety spots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior kicker Chris Hawthorne, who has started in the past, is
in line to replace last year's starter, Jordan Wettstein. Punter Christian
Eldred returns and will look to improve upon his 38.1-yard average. He did
manage to land 22 punts inside the opponent's 20, with only five touchbacks.
Return specialist Troy Stoudemire was a huge weapon in terms of field
position, but he is no longer around.
OUTLOOK: Do the Golden Gophers have what it takes to earn a second straight
bowl bid under third-year coach Jerry Kill?
They made it to the postseason last year despite beating only Purdue and
Illinois in Big Ten play. This year, the Gophers will face Michigan,
Northwestern and Michigan State on the road, while Nebraska, Penn State and
Wisconsin each come to TCF Bank Stadium.
Make no mistake, if they hope to make it back to a bowl game, they'll need to
navigate a tougher schedule and come up with a marquee victory or two.
To accomplish that, Nelson is going to have to take a major step forward in
his sophomore season.
The Sports Network