Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill told the assembled Twin Cities media Tuesday that he knows exactly how good Wisconsin's running back, offensive line, receivers and defense are. He told the media about his good relationship with Badger head coach Bret Bielema. But he really gushed over Russell Wilson, the Wisconsin quarterback.
Kill made it very clear that Wilson is the engine that makes the Badger offensive machine so potent. And it is potent - Wisconsin is the No. 4-ranked scoring offense (47.0 points per game) and the No. 9-ranked total offense in the nation (503.2 yards per game).
"It's a great pick up for the University of Wisconsin because that is the difference, I think, in their whole football team," Kill said of Wilson. You can tell when they interview the young man how mature he is. He's just a different he and plays on a different level than anybody else in college football. So he's special, no question about that.
"I know one thing ... they've got a lot of great players, but that guy right there has been the difference for the University of Wisconsin, no question," Kill added.
Meanwhile, Gopher signal-caller MarQueis Gray has played very well the past two weeks.
"If you're a golfer and you struggle, but then you hit some great shots and all of a sudden you start believing you can do it, all of a sudden you're playing pretty good," Kill said of Gray. "I think he's made some plays and had some success. Once you have success, you build on that, and before long confidence is a great thing."
Saturday has the makings of a pretty good battle at quarterback. In the last two weeks, Gray has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 488 yards with four touchdowns. He has rushed for 133 yards and one score. Wilson is hitting at a 67.3 completion rate with 458 yards and five TDs over the past two games. The Badger QB has rushed for 76 yards and one score in his last two outings as well.
Much like what Kill said about the talent Wilson has around him in Madison, he was quick to spread the praise around when talking about his own quarterback.
"Plus we've had some people around (MarQueis) make a few plays, and that helps also," Kill said. "It's a team thing. Offensive line wise, even though we've had a different group start each week, they have been able to hang in there and allow him to do some things also."
Importance of Rivalry
In his first year at the University of Minnesota, Kill was also asked on Tuesday if he understood what the rivalry with Wisconsin means to Gopher fans. Kill has been here less than a year, but he made it clear he is well aware how important Minnesota's rivalries are to the fanbase.
"I don't think there's any question I know about the rivalry," Kill said. "I know it means a ton to our fans. I know it means a ton to our players and the state of Minnesota, and shoot, our coaches are competitive too. We're right here on the border. We understand recruiting and all that stuff. So I tell you that to down play it or something like that, no. It's dang important to us. We understand that. But we also understand who we're playing. We're going to have to play our guts out just like we did last week. (We've) got to play hard."
Stephens to Be Honored
Saturday will also mark an on-campus celebration of the induction of former Gopher quarterback Sandy Stephens into the College Football Hall of Fame. The University of Minnesota and the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame will jointly honor the late Stephens with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute. Stephens, who passed away on June 6, 2000 at age 59, will be represented by his son Sandy Stephens III, his siblings - Barbara Stephens Foster, Ray Stephens and Joyce (Stephens) Bell - his nephew Lee Stephens, his niece Sharla Foster and long-time friend Otis Courtney.
The NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute program is a hallowed tradition that began with the inaugural class in 1951, and to this day the salutes remain the first of numerous activities in each inductee's Hall of Fame experience. During the NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salutes, each inductee (or his representatives) returns to his alma mater to accept a Hall of Fame plaque that will remain on permanent display at the institution.
Playing for the Gophers from 1959 to 1961, Stephens became college football's first African-American quarterback to be named an All-American as he earned consensus First Team All-American accolades in 1961. That year, he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting; claimed the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player; and set a school record for single-season quarterback rushing with 534 yards.
He led the Golden Gophers to their last national championship in 1960 and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances. Following the 1961 season, he directed the club to its only Rose Bowl victory, a 21-3 victory over No. 16 UCLA, and his performance earned him the Most Valuable Player Award in the game. During his career, he completed 101 passes for 1,475 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 791 yards and 18 scores. The versatile star also registered nine career interceptions as a defensive back and returned 42 punts for 254 yards.
A member of Minnesota's All-Century Team, Stephens is one of just five Golden Gophers to have his jersey retired by the university. Uniontown, Pa., native is a member of the University of Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame, the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.