MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gopher Football Coach Jerry Kill remains at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester as doctors try to resolve his ongoing seizure issues.
His latest one on Sunday morning, was the last straw in the family’s determination to go to the Mayo Clinic.
In his absence, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys took Kill’s spot as his weekly news conference on Tuesday and said he’s not ruling out that his boss will be in Ann Arbor on Saturday and coaching when the Gophers face No. 19-ranked Michigan.
“I think you have to always prepare for the worst but I expect the best. I’ll be shocked if he’s not there,” Claeys said.
Kill has to focus on getting healthy before he can get back on the sidelines, and the Gophers won’t be going into Michigan with a lot of confidence on Saturday.
They played arguably their worst game of the season so far and got thumped by an FCS opponent in North Dakota State on their home turf. They’ve lost to the Bison before and also lost at home to South Dakota last season before Tim Brewster was eventually fired.
Now it’s the Big 10 season, which means the 1-3 Gophers can achieve a lot for their program if they can at least be competitive on Saturday against the Wolverines. It’s the battle for the Little Brown Jug.
The struggling Gophers face a daunting task this week as 4-0 Michigan is ranked No. 19 in the country and is led by Denard Robinson, a multi-faceted quarterback. He’s thrown for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns and run for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns in four wins.
“It’s a great challenge, speed running the ball, speed extending the play, it’ll be a great test for us and it’s a great test to start off the Big 10,” said Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen.
The Gophers and Wolverines are going to play for one of the most famous trophies in college football, the Little Brown Jug. But in the last 44 years, the jug has only made a few token appearances here in Minneapolis. They’ve only won the game four times in the series, dating back to 1967.
One of those once-a-decade wins came in 1986, when the Gophers turned the Big House into the big morgue with a stunning 20-17 victory. Anyone who played on that Minnesota team vividly remembers that historic day in Ann Arbor.
“It’s a unique place to play because it’s almost like a bomb crater. You come in at street level and you walk down to your seats,” said former Gopher Ray Hitchcock. “It’s imposing but it’s also fun when you hear 105,000 people say nothing.”
Capacity at the Big House is now just under 110,000, and it’s critical that the Gophers don’t get sucked into the wow factor of game day in Ann Arbor.
“There’s a lot of people, but it’s not the frenzied, out of control type of environment that a lot of college stadiums have,” said Darrell Thompson, an ex-Gopher who won at Michigan in 1986.
The two teams kick off at 11 a.m. local time Saturday.