It is always nice to go into the week after a Gopher victory isn't it? Especially after a thorough whipping of a Big Ten opponent. Who would have thought that this offense that couldn't get over 13 points in their first three Big Ten games (even with a two touchdowns in one of those games) would manage to score 44 unanswered points. Great game, great win and now we move one with the Monday perspective.
So I have two prevailing thoughts. First, I told you that things are not as bad as they seemed (and things still are not as good either). Secondly, I think Purdue is a good reminder that progress and improvement is not necessarily linear.
A week ago people were beginning to question everything. I opined that the honeymoon was over but we should absolutely still remain patient! Our patience was quickly rewarded with a conference win and one that left very little room for doubt.
The fact still remains that this is a young team. They have a lot to learn and consistency is going to be a significant issue. This is just year two of Kill's effort to get this program on solid footings. You build the foundation, you try to win games but ultimately you are building the foundation so that winning takes care of itself. Most of the Big Ten season we have been making enough mistakes to lose games. Northwestern if we don't make a couple critical defensive mistakes in the first half, that game easily could have turned out differently. Iowa was entire quarter of mistakes but the idea is the same.
Coach Kill had this to say in his weekly press conference a couple weeks ago.
With that being said, I won't tell you who I called; I haven't talked on the phone much since Saturday, but I picked up the phone to call somebody that I respect. He's coached this game for a tremendous amount of years, and I was talking to him about our situation a little bit, and I'd like to say it was my words, but it's his.
He says, "Coach," he said, "you're just about where you are when you turn a program around." I said, "what's that?" He said, "When you first get into a program, you're just not very darn good." Then he said, "then you start progressing a little bit and you start winning some and then you start thinking maybe we're pretty good, and then all of a sudden, you know, you win a few games, but you just can't quite get over the corner, and then frustration comes in." He said, "That's kind of where you're at. And then the third thing is when you get that program built, then you just find ways to win. You don't find ways to lose."
So I think we're in that situation right now, that we're a little bit frustrated because we just can't make a play or two or we can't do the fundamental things that you'd like to do to take that next step. I said all along we don't have any margin for error and we've made some errors that are fundamental that hurt you.
The Purdue game is an example of what happens when we don't make mistakes and we take advantage of our opponent's mistakes. Fortunately I think Purdue was still recovering from the hangover of nearly beating Ohio State before falling in OT.
We still have a long ways to go, but I like where we are going. The offense is doing OK this year but more importantly they are building towards next year. 2012 is a year for Nelson to learn to run an offense and learn the playbook while developing chemisty with the vast array of skill position players all returning next year. The entire offensive will return, a year stronger and more physically mature. Defensively we lose more, but there are plenty of guys getting reps behind the seniors. We lose Stoudermire and Carter but the JUCOs are getting quite a few reps. Those guys will be significant losses. We lose a few linebackers but guys like Aaron Hill, James Manuel, Brendan Beal and LaMonte Edwards are all getting a lot of playing time. I don't expect significant dropoff at this position. Along the defensive line we lose just D.L. Wilhite.
There is a lot to look forward to next year and I believe the perspective to take the rest of the year is to enjoy watching them develop! A bowl game would be a tremendous boost to the program. 15 extra practices and a feather in your cap for recruiting are significant. But let's not get hung up on the bowl game. There will still be ups and downs, enjoy the process.
As far as Purdue goes, I think there are some valuable lessons here. Under coach Hope the team started 4-8 in his first season and improved to 7-6 last year with a win over Ohio State and a bowl win. There were high hopes for year three with a lot of returning starters, a couple ineligible teams within their division, Wisconsin coming to their field and a shot at a 13th game in Indianapolis. But things have not gone so well and this team has some major consistency issues. The perspective to maintain is that improvement and program's taking the next step is not a linear process.
The Gophers may not go from 3 wins to 6 wins to 8 wins and then 10 in year four. Setbacks happen. Scheduling and other teams improving at different rates happens. Going from bad to mediocre is one thing, moving from a middle of the pack team to one of the top dogs is really hard.