Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Heading into week three of the college football season, the Golden Gophers have a chance to open a season 3-0 for the first time since 2008. Western Michigan heads to TCF Bank Stadium this Saturday touting a 1-1 record making the Gophers 3-0 aspirations a real possibility. Despite the potential that this weekend may hold for Minnesota, head coach Jerry Kill had a stern reminder Tuesday afternoon saying that they still "have a long, long way to go."
"Right now we're still learning about our team," Kill said Tuesday. "But we have to play really, really good, clean football to have a chance to be successful with anybody on our schedule. That's just the way it is right now."
When Kill inherited the Gophers prior to the 2011 season, the cupboards were left pretty dry. In fact, there were certain classes (and positions) that were left almost entirely vacant by the previous administration. With a program in shambles, Kill began living by a simple two step approach to getting the Gophers football team back to relevancy.
Looking at the Gophers 2012 roster, of the 119 players listed only 17 (14%) are seniors. Add to that 22 juniors and only one third of this year's team is made up of upperclassmen. Step one, and the most obvious of Jerry Kills imaginary steps to rebuilding the program was recruiting good players and building a solid foundation of "program players" who are buying in to what Coach Kill is selling.
"It's kind of a balancing act right now," Kill explained of his roster insufficiencies. "I count on the board [and we're] trying to red shirt maybe 24 kids. That's a pretty good [start]. But can we do that? We'll see, injuries control a lot of that."
With the ground work in place, Kill continuously reminds those around the team that while they are headed in the right direction, there is still a long ways to go before they can actually be considered a competitor in the Big Ten. This leads us to Jerry Kill's hypothetical second step towards relevance, you're never good enough to quit working at your craft.
"We have a long, long way to go and our kids understand that," Kill said. "We [won] two games, that's great and everything like that, but we've got to get ready for Saturday, and we have to be better than we were last week."
It would be tough to accurately compare the UNLV team from week one to the New Hampshire opponent from week two, but from week to week it was clear that the Gophers were able to improve leaps and bounds in their own respect. But even in their 37-point blowout last weekend, Kill and his staff still found chinks in the armor on defense and flaws in the offensive attack.
Kill says that filling those voids and correcting the mistakes begins in the film room for yong teams like his.
"You get a pretty good feel [from the tape]," Kill said. "I come in and watch the game, and I'll watch it probably a couple times before I get into my comments, before I go visit with our coaching staff and try to evaluate things. But there's always things you find out."
The Gophers won't gain a competitive advantage over their opponents for solely watching film, every team watches film. But for a rebuilding program it becomes essential that they take film sessions and make the very most of them. This is no secret to Coach Kill.
"We've got 17‑ to 22‑year‑old kids," Kill continued. "There's definitely a lot of mental mistakes and things that we need to clean up...I'll put those clips up [on the board], and you can't hide from the video."
It's a tough business when you're trying to be an affective teacher but are forced to harp out the mistakes that players are making. That's where winning helps.
"The atmosphere is always better when you win," Kill said Tuesday. "It gives you a chance to be pretty critical and get after them and tell them what they need to do, and they don't take it personal. I don't know, the coaching seems to be better because their morale is better. When you don't win and get after them, they feel like they get beat down a little bit."
"I think the biggest thing that you have to do as a coach, and your coaches, which we've been through, is stay consistent no matter you win or lose. You just stay the same, and you can't get too far up and you can't get too far down. I think the kids reflect how you act sometimes."
We won't know for a year or two if the foundation that Jerry has laid through recruitment will be that of the sand or that of the rock, but if the Gophers continue to improve week-to-week heading into the Big Ten conference schedule, we can assume that Kill's hypothetical second step is in action. The first test of this comes to TCF Bank Stadium this Saturday in the form of Western Michigan.
Aj Mansour covers the Twins, Vikings, & Gopher Football for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Golden Gopher updates and breaking news follow Aj on Twitter @AjMansourKFAN