Season in review: Minnesota football

In just his second season in Minneapolis, Jerry Kill delivered the Golden Gophers to a bowl for the first time since 2009. The team jetted to a 4-0 start, but went just 2-6 to finish the season. The offense struggled down the stretch, as the Gophers finished 10th in total offense (317.5 ypg).

Still, there are lots of positives to build on. Minnesota overcame having to use three different quarterbacks, including true freshman Philip Nelson who started the last six games.

[RELATED: Read Tom Dienhart’s ongoing series of 2012 football season reviews. ]

Minnesota 2012
Date Opponent Result / Time
8/30 at UNLV 30 – 27
9/8 vs. New Hampshire 44 – 7
9/15 vs. Western Michigan 28 – 23
9/22 vs. Syracuse 17 – 10
9/29 at Iowa 13 – 31
10/13 vs. Northwestern 13 – 21
10/20 at Wisconsin 13 – 38
10/27 vs. Purdue 44 – 28
11/3 vs. Michigan 13 – 35
11/10 at Illinois 17 – 3
11/17 at 16 Nebraska 14 – 38
11/24 vs. Michigan State 10 – 26
12/28 at Texas Tech 9:00 ET

Record: 6-6 overall; 2-6 Big Ten

Bowl: Meineke Car Care Bowl vs. Texas Tech

High point: A 17-3 win at Illinois on Nov. 10 was Minnesota’s sixth of the season, making the program bowl eligible. It was a workmanlike victory that put the Gophers over the edge, as the defense permitted just 276 yards. The Minnesota offense was at its best in a 44-28 win over Purdue on Oct. 27, racing to a 34-7 halftime lead en route to notching 458 yards. Philip Nelson was on fire, hitting 15-of-22 passes for 246 yards and three scores.

Low point: Minnesota’s legitimacy as a Legends Division contender took a hit at the start of Big Ten play with three losses in a row: at Iowa (31-13), vs. Northwestern (21-13), at Wisconsin (38-13). That punched a hole in a 4-0 start. In retrospect, the 31-13 loss at Iowa on Sept. 29 is the worst, given the way the Hawkeye offense struggled in just about every other game in 2012.

Offensive MVP: RB Donnell Kirkwood. The sophomore paced the team with 849 yards rushing, proving to be the most consistent weapon on a squad that saw quarterback MarQueis Gray deal with injury and a switch back to receiver and top wideout A.J. Barker abruptly leave the team.

Defensive MVP: E D.L. Wilhite. The senior provided a needed rush off the edge, ranking second in the Big Ten in sacks. He also led the Gophers in tackles for loss, emerging as a much-needed playmaker for a defense that made strides by ranking No. 5 in the Big Ten (352.8 ypg) after finishing 10th in 2011 (403.1 ypg).

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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