Gophers desperate to resuscitate offense, season

Quarterback Mitch Leidner, running back Shannon Brooks and the Minnesota offense struggled against Northwestern last week.

Matt Marton/Associated Press

Talented, successful coaches don’t run from challenges. They meet them head-on.

And that’s the tact Jerry Kill is taking this week, a handful of days after his Minnesota squad was embarrassed, in a 27-0 loss at No. 16 Northwestern.

"Right now I’m doing a poor job of coaching," Kill told reporters Tuesday. "I’ve been more motivated this week than I’ve been motivated all year, because I’m not happy."

Minnesota (3-2 overall) takes on an improving, 1-4 Purdue team at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday, in West Lafayette, Ind. But Kill didn’t spend a ton of time breaking down the Boilermakers on Tuesday. After all, he knows he needs to fix his broken roster, first and foremost.

Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner, for example, had an ugly afternoon at Northwestern last Saturday. The junior signal-caller went 10 for 21 passing for 72 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He also had five carries for just one yard before giving way to freshman Demry Croft late in the game.

Kill wouldn’t address who his starting QB will be this week, but did reiterate that his squad’s issues are all over the place, and not just under center.

"Nobody needs to know what we’re doing with the quarterback from week to week," Kill argued. ". . . We’ve got a ton of things to work out right now."

Getting senior left guard Jon Christenson back from injury this week should help. Christenson had been out since mid-September due to a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

"Mitch is fighting his tail end off, but we’ve got to give him a chance to be successful," noted offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. "Right now, up front — the guys know it — we’re not giving him a chance to be successful — he’s taken a beating."

Minnesota has scored three total points in the first quarter this season. All told, the Gophers are averaging just 15.4 points per game in 2015.

"I haven’t lost any confidence," said Leidner, who has a 57.2 completion percentage. "I’ve won a lot of football games."

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To put it mildly, the Gophers are desperate to resuscitate their offense.

"It’s frustrating, but I think the kids are holding in there pretty good, and they’re embarrassed," Kill noted. ". . . I mean, we’ve all got pride, and we all want to be good.

"It’s not just one person. We have breakdowns," the coach added.

Kill and his staff spent most of an entire recent practice breaking down game film from last Saturday, with a large group of players.

"We’re trying to do everything we can to get it fixed," Kill explained.

Minnesota may begin using more of a platoon system among its offensive linemen. Kill will also demand that all his troops play with more energy and urgency.

And . . . the Gophers might get even more conservative with their play-calling.

"We’ve got to play to our strengths right now," Kill declared. "We need to run the ball. We’ve got to get back to being who we are.

"We were throwing the ball 35 times a game. That isn’t who we are. That isn’t who I am," added the fifth-year Gophers head coach. "That’s not how we’re going to be able to win in the Big Ten."

Kill is searching for answers in some respects these days. But he remains passionately devoted to restoring order to the Gophers’ season.

"I’m not going to feel sorry for myself," Kill said. "I’m a competitor.

"You’ve just got to keep grinding. We’re certainly not going to give up or anything," Kill added. "It’s a great challenge for us, and we’ve always been fairly good when our back is against the wall."

Minnesota has struggled mightily at times recently, but a few big plays against Purdue could quickly tip the pendulum back in the Gophers’ favor this season.

"It’s kind of like life; when things aren’t going your way, you’ve got to have something good happen before you get back on track in life. Same way in football," Kill explained.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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