With its bowl hopes on life support, the Gophers football team should find some solace in a suddenly resurgent offense under new head coach Tracy Claeys.
Jerry Kill's sudden retirement three days before Minnesota's Halloween game against Michigan marked the beginning of a less conservative offense. The remaining coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, isn't denying the fact.
"One of the interesting things is that I think Coach Kill always felt that way," Limegrover said of the conservative strategy under Kill, according to the Star Tribune. "So that kind of permeated down. … And interestingly enough, with Tracy being the defensive coordinator and now the head coach, he’s been the one to say, 'Hey, go ahead and take a chance here.'"
Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski told KFAN that Kill simply had a more "conservative approach."
Minnesota put up 26 points against Michigan's then-No. 1-ranked scoring defense and came within inches of winning the game. The next week they competed with third-ranked Ohio State and the offense was firing on all cylinders in last week's 40-35 loss to fifth-ranked Iowa.
Ohio State and Iowa are still ranked third and fifth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, meaning both have a realistic shot at playing for a national championship.
The more dynamic offense, the Pioneer Press notes, is due largely in part to Claeys allowing Limegrover to call passing plays on first down more frequently.
Kill wasn't the only reason Minnesota's offense was pathetic at times before Claeys took over Oct. 28, but the trend is pretty clear in quarterback Mitch Leidner's play.
Under Kill, Leidner was throwing up duds on a seemingly weekly basis, including 72- and- 59-yard performances in back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Purdue. The struggles created a quarterback controversy that has since died out, leaving freshman Demry Croft on the sidelines and without a redshirt.
Leidner, per the Star Tribune, has tied a school record with four straight 250-yard passing performances, the first of which came against Nebraska – Kill's final game.
There's no doubt Leidner has improved since Kill's departure.
Minnesota needs to beat Illinois and Wisconsin to finish the regular season with a bowl eligible six wins. Saturday's game against Illinois kicks off from TCF Bank Stadium at 11 a.m.