Minnesota Gophers head coach Jerry Kill has followed a steady pattern everywhere he’s been. He takes a good stride forward from year one to year two, starts winning a lot more in year three and the program begins to take off from there.
Kill’s teams haven’t finished worse than third in year four of a program he’s had for that long, placing third at Emporia State and tying for the conference title at Southern Illinois.
In 2014, Kill’s Gophers followed that pattern nearly to a tee, as they continued to win football games and build up in Big Ten play. It led to an 8-4 regular season finish and a challenge to rival Wisconsin for the West Division title.
That means there was plenty of good happening in Minneapolis, but let’s take a look at the highlights and lowlights of a season many didn’t see coming.
Picking the good from a season full of good moments is hard, but we’re going to go with winning the Little Brown Jug away from the Michigan Wolverines. For us that was the awakening that this team was different, and that Michigan also wasn’t as good as preseason pundits thought they were going to be.
No matter the records, Michigan has simply dominated the battle for the Little Brown Jug, losing it just twice in the last quarter of a century. Make it three times now after the 2014 game, which Minnesota won in the Big House by a 30-14 score.
It was the first sign that something would be different for the Gophers in 2014, as they would go on to win the next three rivalry trophy games. Yes, Minnesota beat Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska (with the trophy probably the coolest non-axe trophy in the Big Ten) in the same season.
That’s how far this group has come under Kill’s tutelage.
Wisconsin has simply owned their border battle rivals for a better part of a decade, and as the two teams met in the final week of the regular season all that was on the line was a trip to the Big Ten championship game.
A decade of losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe seemed so close to being over, as Minnesota went in to Camp Randall and took a 17-13 lead at the half. However, the Gophers offense shut down and Wisconsin’s defense figured some things out from intermission on.
Minnesota scored just seven points in the entire second half, and the Badgers reeled off 24 unanswered points to take a 27-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Gophers earned respect, but in a rivalry game that doesn’t matter much. In a game where a division title and a chance for a conference crown on the line, respect doesn’t mean anything at all.
Kill still hasn’t gotten his guys over the hump against Wisconsin and doing so in 2015 could be the difference maker in his crew climbing up another rung on the Big Ten ladder.
There’s no way Minnesota was ready for the upper echelon of college football, as Week 3 of the season proved. Minnesota took a trip to Fort Worth, Texas and took a butt-whipping in the form of a 30-7 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs.
Yes, the Horned Frogs were in the College Football Playoff discussion all season long, but Kill and Co. have much higher standards of play than what happened on that fateful day in Fort Worth.
Minnesota had just 14 first downs, rushed for just 99 yards and threw three interceptions — all things Kill and his staff emphasis in the “what not to do category.” Simply put, Minnesota can’t win without running the ball well, grinding out big drives and taking care of the football.
That didn’t happen against TCU, and Minnesota suffered its ugliest and most telling loss of the season.