Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 11/26/11
MINNEAPOLIS The Golden Gophers football team won just three games all year, saving its most convincing victory for last. Minnesota defeated reeling Illinois by a 27-7 final on Saturday and held the Illini offense to 160 yards for the game. For Illinois, the loss was its sixth straight after starting the year 6-0.The Gophers now head into the offseason with a victory for the second straight year, but plenty of work remains to be done for coach Jerry Kill and Minnesota to prepare for his second season. Here are five things we learned from Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium.1.The seniors went out on a high note. Minnesota's senior class experienced more losses than wins during their careers. They've had multiple head coaches and numerous coordinators. But they went out as winners following the victory over Illinois, allowing them to have fond memories of their final game in maroon and gold."It's a wonderful feeling to be able to go out like this," said senior linebacker Gary Tinsley. "I'm so glad they get to go out like this, because you always remember your last game," Kill said. "I played this game a long time ago. I can still remember the last time I played on a football field. I'm so happy for them, their families and our program. It's a big win for us and helps us move into the offseason."2.MarQueis Gray is a differentplayer than he was at the beginning of the season. Gray, Minnesota's junior quarterback, was a big question mark entering the 2011 season. There was no doubt of his athleticism he played wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore but his throwing ability and leadership qualities remained to be seen. After a slow start and a toe injury, Gray finished the year strong. He had two of his best games against two of the Big Ten's top defenses Michigan State earlier this month, and Illinois on Saturday. Against the Illini, Gray ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including an impressive 14-yard score in the second half that included a few juke moves.Gray finished his season with 966 rushing yards, the most every by a Gophers quarterback in one season. Clearly, the Gray we saw on Saturday was a much-improved version of the one that started the season for the Gophers."It's more confidence for myself because I played quarterback this year, and last year I was a receiver," Gray said. "This lets me know I'm able to get this team a win, build off this win, work as hard as I can in the offseason and just build off that."3.Minnesota's pass rush continues to improve. The Gophers were last in the nation last year in total sacks, and entered Saturday's game with 14 sacks, good for 102nd in Division I. But Minnesota sacked Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase four times in the first quarter and got to backup Reilly O'Toole once in the fourth. Two of those sacks were by sophomore defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman, who also forced a fumble. Linebackers Gary Tinsley and Keanon Cooper had two the Gophers' other sacks, while senior safety Kim Royston sacked O'Toole in the fourth quarter."Our defense played awful well. We've got to take out hats off to our defensive coaches," Kill said. "Teams that win championships have to be good on defense. We'll recruit hard and keep moving that part of the team forward."4.Jordan Wettstein can kick it. Wettstein, a walk-on from De Pere, Wis., entered the season as the Gophers' backup kicker. But after an injury to starting kicker Chris Hawthorne, Wettstein stepped in to fill the role. Wettstein had one of his best games of the season Saturday, drilling a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half to put Minnesota up 20-0. He also hit from 43 yards in the second quarter."I think Jordan, he's capable of doing more," Kill said. "He had a great day today, but I think he's capable of doing more. I look forward to seeing that. That's the way everybody ought to approach it. We get everybody to improve like he has and a lot of other players we'll have a chance to be a good football team."With the junior Wettstein having success in the second half of the season, the Gophers could have competition for the kicking job next year."I've got one year of eligibility left if the coaching staff will let me come back," Wettstein said."I think they will," chimed Royston.5.Gophers fans still support Jerry Kill despite a 3-9 record his first year. As Kill and the Gophers walked off the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, a familiar chant echoed from the student section: "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!"Yes, the Gophers finished 3-9 in Kill's first season. But clearly, the support shown by the fans Saturday sends a message that they believe in Kill's approach to rebuilding the struggling program."The students have been tremendous to me since I came here everybody has," Kill said. "People in the state of Minnesota, the students, have all been great to my family and I. I'm a little bit disappointed that we haven't delivered more. The support's been great. We just have to continue improving our football game. We all know winning solves a lot of problems."
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