Big Ten Conference Call: Gophers' improvements pay off

2012-11-13T20:30:00Z 2012-11-14T23:19:26Z Big Ten Conference Call: Gophers' improvements pay offBy TOMMY DAHLK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

By beating Illinois 17-3 last week, Minnesota became bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.

Gophers second-year coach Jerry Kill said it is a great testament to the direction of the football program, which had a combined 6-18 record in the two years (2009-10) before Kill arrived.

“We haven’t had a ton of stability here at Minnesota over the past couple of years,” said Kill. “They see the same coaches, the same scheme, the same people teaching. I think you know we’ll always give the kids a comfort zone. Our staff has been together for a long time.”

Minnesota plays at Nebraska this week. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who is familiar with taking over a program in disarray, said the Golden Gophers’ bowl eligibility is quite impressive.

“I think they are very much improved over a year ago,” Pelini said. “It doesn’t happen over night. He took over a tough situation and they were struggling. You see them steadily getting better, believing, and staying the course of what they are trying to do.”

Cardiac Huskers

For the third game in four weeks, Nebraska managed to come from behind and pull off a second-half comeback.

Nebraska is tied with Michigan atop the Legends Division, but has the tiebreaker advantage.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked if it frustrates him that the Huskers haven’t given an inch to the Wolverines despite trailing late in games. He said the Wolverines can’t worry about it.

“To be honest with you, all we care about is us," Hoke said. "We’ve got to play our best football and improve every week.”

Although Pelini is glad the Huskers pulled off the wins, he hopes the next couple can be a little less dramatic. Still, he believes the wins can only help his team’s confidence in the final stretch of the season.

“Better execution as the games have gone on,” Pelini said. “We’ve put ourselves in some tough situations and we’ve had to respond. To do that you have to be petty mentally tough, which I think our guys are. I don’t know if I can handle much more of that.”

Senior send-off

Many seniors on the Husker roster were part of Pelini’s first recruiting class. When asked about the emotions involved, he mentioned that the seniors really went through a lot and it will make the day extra special.

“They were going to help get this thing turned around,” Pelini said. “I think they’ve done a remarkable job of how they’ve played, how they’ve represented the university, the character they’ve shown on and off the field.”

Gardner's growth

After starting the season at wide receiver, junior Devin Gardner has blossomed in his new role as Michigan's quarterback.

Taking over signal-calling duties after star QB Denard Robinson was sidelined with an injury and backup Russell Bellomy struggled in relief, Gardner has led the Wolverines to back-to-back wins in two starts.

He earned co-Big Ten offensive player-of-the-week honors this week after leading the Wolverines to a thrilling 38-31 overtime win over Northwestern.

Gardner threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats, one of them  the game-winner in overtime. He also ran for two other scores.

The Wolverines face Iowa this week. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he saw quite the improvement between his first and second starts.

“Each week he’s (Gardner) grown,” Ferentz said. “His confidence has grown. The package has grown. He’s playing very well. He’s a very dangerous player in a couple of areas.”

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