The Gophers’ 43-24 win over San Jose State last Saturday was one of the most impressive wins in the Jerry Kill era. Still, the team doesn’t necessarily have a statement win on its resume.
In two years, Kill’s teams have won just four games against Big Ten opponents.
Two of those wins have come against Illinois and one against Purdue — neither of which is on the schedule this season.
Kill’s only Big Ten victory that wasn’t against Purdue or Illinois was a 22-21 stunner at home over Iowa in 2011.
Iowa comes back to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, at a time when the Gophers’ potential is still unknown after a weak nonconference slate.
Minnesota isn’t the only unproven Big Ten school, though. Others have struggled in nonconference games.
Nebraska got walloped by UCLA, Wisconsin controversially lost to Arizona State, and Michigan narrowly beat Akron and Connecticut.
Those subpar performances by teams across the conference bring on a perception that the Big Ten is down this year.
That leaves some room for Minnesota to potentially make noise in conference play for the first time in a long time.
The team has started 4-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2005, but without Purdue and Illinois on the schedule, it may not make as much noise as some expect.
Hypotheticals aside, Kill said he knows discipline is what the Gophers need to beat Big Ten powerhouses.
“It’s the only way we will,” Kill said. “If we turn over the ball and have penalties, then you’ll see something in the loss column.”
Minnesota has taken care of business early in 2013, winning its first four games by a combined 87 points, but odds are Iowa is much better than any team the Gophers have played this year.
After 15 years under head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has exactly what the Gophers seek in Big Ten play, Kill said: discipline.
“They are fundamentally [sound],” Kill said. “They beat people on fundamentals and technique.”
But Minnesota appears to be disciplined so far this year as the least-penalized team in the Big Ten.
The Gophers have also done a good job protecting the ball this season. As a team, Minnesota has only thrown two interceptions in 2013 and redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner has thrown zero.
“We emphasize not turning the ball over a lot in practice,” Leidner said. “We’re always working on throwing the ball away. … You just don’t want to turn it over.”
Iowa is disciplined. Minnesota is, too. And in Kill’s eyes, if the Gophers can maintain that type of discipline against tougher opponents, his team could assert itself this year in the Big Ten.
“If we don’t make those types of errors, then we’ll have a chance for success,” Kill said. “If we don’t, then we won’t [have success]. It’s pretty simple.”