Coach Kill previewed Saturday's game at Michigan State Tuesday.
Head coach Jerry Kill said his team learned a valuable lesson in Saturday's come-from-behind victory over Iowa.
Since he took over the program, Kill has been constantly talking to his team about effort, intensity, working hard, not taking plays off, etc. For instance, prior to the game against North Dakota State back in September, Kill said the Bison were a "football team that plays tremendously hard. They do not take plays off. That's something we can learn from here at the University of Minnesota."
It looks like that message sunk in vs. the Hawkeyes.
"I think the kids, no matter who it was ... they played hard," Kill said during his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. "As I told them at the end of the game, playing hard doesn't promise you a victory, but it guarantees you a darned chance and this is what we've been trying to tell you. Everybody has got to play hard."
Now, the key will be to keep or improve upon that level of intensity when the Gophers go on the road to face a nationally-ranked Michigan State squad. The Spartans are Nos. 15 and 16 in the two major college football rankings and are coming off back-to-back emotional contests. MSU miraculously defeated Wisconsin on a Hail Mary on the last play of the game two weeks ago. The Spartans then went to Lincoln, Neb. with a chance to grab control of the Legends Division race and were handed a 24-3 setback to the Huskers.
"We're going to play a great, great football team, a tremendous defensive football team," Kill said. "I think their (defense is) No. 2 in the country right now, and rightfully so. Very, very, very athletic, and we have our work cut out for us. It will be a great challenge for our football team. (Michigan State is) a very, very physical football team. It's not a good time to play them. I can tell you that. They'll be ready to play on Saturday."
Coach Kill said last week's victory over Iowa should certainly give the Gophers some confidence as they travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans. He's hoping that his team will have a positive mental mindset Saturday and that the aforementioned lessons about hard work carry over. But playing against a very physical opponent after leaving it all on the field last week has the head coach concerned.
"Mentally, I think we're in much better shape than we were a week ago because you get a win," Kill said. "Physically, I worry about it because we expended a lot on the field, and we're not the biggest group in the world, so I worry about us a little bit physically right now. Our injury report was pretty big (after last week's game)."
Although I can't say for certainty if either of these guys were on the official injury report Coach Kill receives from the medical staff, it wouldn't surprise me if Duane Bennett and Christyn Lewis were listed. But those two were among a number of Gophers who received a good amount of praise from Kill in his weekly talk with the media, partially for their mental and physical toughness.
"Christyn Lewis kind of sums it up," Kill said. "He's a buck 65 playing safety, tackling a 235-pound tailback who's got about a 10- or 12-yard running start at you, and he's sticking it in there every play. So I can tell you he's giving me everything he's got. I told him he was the toughest 165 I've seen in a long time. But that's a credit to him and the way he's playing, played hard."
"(Duane) ran physical," Kill added. "He got banged up a little bit and I hope he's going to be ready to go. Duane is a proud kid, and I think after he fumbled, it bothered him, and I think he played even harder after he fumbled the football to make up for the fumble. He's a competitive kid. He's a senior. He's been through a lot. Duane has been great to me since the day I walked in the door, been a very positive kid, and I was very happy for him."
Bennett, Lewis and the rest of the Gophers will travel to East Lansing on Friday. Kickoff for this week's game is set for 11 a.m. CT from Spartan Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the BTN with Matt Devlin and former Gopher head coach Glen Mason calling the action.