IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Gophers’ 4-0 start masked their youth and inexperience. The beatdown they got Saturday brought it back to the surface.
That being said, there’s plenty Jerry Kill’s team can learn from its 31-13 loss in Iowa. And with a bye week on the horizon, there’s no better time for him to teach.
“We’ve got a young team on the road,” Kill said. “We couldn’t get the bleeding stopped in the first quarter. [Iowa] got the crowd behind them. They got the momentum. That happens in college football.”
Minnesota (4-1) has two weeks to regroup before its Oct. 13 homecoming showdown with Northwestern. Several key Minnesota players — including starting quarterback MarQueis Gray — are banged up. The bye week should serve as time for them to heal and prepare for the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
The Gophers’ offensive line played Saturday without starting center Zach Mottla and starting left guard Tommy Olson, leaving Tommy’s big brother Ed as the unit’s only healthy upperclassmen.
Running back Donnell Kirkwood was held to a season-low 33 yards, and as a team, Minnesota ran for just 102 yards on 32 carries, with most of the yardage coming in garbage time.
“We know we didn’t execute like we could have,” Kirkwood said. “We have to practice fast. We have to practice hard. … The players are going to have to execute.”
Safety Brock Vereen, who was limited Saturday with a sore knee, said, “it’s good timing as far as the bye week comes.”
“A game like this is going to hurt. It’s supposed to hurt, and it will hurt for a while,” he said. “This game can be taken as a lesson.”
Poor kickoff returns, bad tackling and untimely turnovers — likely a few of Kill’s teaching points in the coming weeks — doomed the Gophers in the first half, and by halftime, the game was out of hand.
But Minnesota was better in the second half of the game, and Kill said he expects his team to be better in the second half of the season, too.
“We’ll go back to the fundamentals. When you look at football, it comes down to blocking and tackling, execution and making good decisions,” Kill said. “That’s what we did a year ago in the off-week, so hopefully we can continue to do that — keep their focus and keep moving forward.”
- The Gophers had won five straight games dating back to last season — the longest winning streak in the conference — before Saturday’s loss.
- Minnesota hasn’t won a Big Ten opener since 2009.
- For the first time all season, the Gophers didn’t record a sack.
- James Vandenberg’s 45-yard completion to C.J. Fiedorowicz in the first quarter was the first offensive play of 30 yards or more that Minnesota allowed this season. Before that, the Gophers were the only team nationally that hadn’t allowed a 30-yard play.