Jerry Kill sees skill, depth at QB position for Gophers

BY foxsports • July 24, 2013


During Jerry Kill's final season as head coach at Northern Illinois in 2010, he had the fortune of coaching two of the best quarterbacks in program history at the same time.

Chandler Harnish became the first NIU quarterback to earn first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors and broke the team's 47-year-old record for single-season total offense. Jordan Lynch, meanwhile, played in nine games as Harnish's backup. Two years later, he broke four NCAA, two MAC and 14 NIU records to earn All-America honors.

Northern Illinois finished 10-3 under Kill that season, including an undefeated regular-season Mid-American Conference record.

Kill can't guarantee a similar record as he enters his third season at Minnesota -- and most would consider him crazy if he did make such a bold proclamation -- but he sees the similarities in his quarterback situation for the Gophers.

His starter, Phillip Nelson, burned his redshirt halfway through last season and started the final seven games of the year. Nelson's backup, Mitch Leidner, is a redshirt freshman with the capabilities of playing if needed.

"And I kind of compare our quarterback situation a little bit to what we had at Northern Illinois when I took over that program with Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch," Kill said Wednesday during the Big Ten's media days. "I feel like we're kind of in that area."

Last season, Nelson completed 75 of 152 passes (49.3 percent) for 873 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Gophers finished just 2-5 during his starts following a 4-2 start, but all four victories came during nonconference play. Nelson also has the experience of playing in a bowl game against Texas Tech. In that game, he threw for two touchdown passes and one interception.

"He certainly played valuable time for us in the last (seven) ball games and did very well," Kill said. "And it was a great growing process for him."

Nelson figures to start the season as the No. 1 after a strong showing during spring practices, but Leidner was equally impressive. During the team's spring game, Nelson completed his first 10 passes and finished 13 of 17 for 179 yards with a touchdown. Leidner completed 10 of 18 passes for 126 yards for two touchdowns and led a second-half comeback in the game.

"We feel good about our quarterback situation," Kill said, "and we feel like that's going to be a strength down the road here."

Kirkwood strong: Kill said he believed Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood was prepared for a big season. He also noted Minnesota's success would be predicated on more than simply the success of Kirkwood in the backfield.

Last season, Kirkwood rushed for 926 yards and six touchdowns and should challenge for a 1,000-yard season in 2013. Sophomore Rodrick Williams rushed for 261 yards and two touchdowns and would figure to garner a few more carries. A year ago, he carried the ball just 57 times.

"I think if you go back through the history of not only where I've coached before but even with the Minnesota Gophers is that we've always had great running backs," Kill said. "And Donnell has certainly emerged with Rodrick Williams and big strong physical backs, and that’s kind of who we are. And that's who we want to be.

"So he's done a great job not only on the field but he's done a great job with leadership with our younger players and has been a part of a group of kids that have really changed the culture and the character in our program. I'm very pleased with his efforts and I expect a great year out of Donnell."

Facilities talk: Kill addressed the impact of Minnesota's $190 million facilities upgrade on the football program. Minnesota will build a practice facility for the men's and women's basketball programs as well as upgrade the football practice facility as part of the project.

"I think the biggest thing in where we're at, and where our program wants to go, there's got to be a commitment at the top, and we certainly have that with President (Eric) Kaler and our administration," Kill said. "And we just don’t want to be average. We want to be the best and as good as we can be.

"And right now, we've got a beautiful stadium, a great place to play on Saturdays. But we have to improve our practice facilities, strength training and academic facilities. And we're doing some great things academically. We're just kind of running out of space.

"So this is a critical project for us. And I commend (athletic director) Norwood (Teague) and his team and our president moving it forward. We're going to our plan's to have one of the best indoor facilities all college football and we don’t want to do it halfway."

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