Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Chicago Bears drove 66 yards on 10 plays and scored the winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining to tip the Minnesota Vikings 31-30 Sunday in Chicago. The loss dropped the Vikings to 0-2. What are your thoughts on the game?

-Dorr: I kept track of Minnesota’s first-and-10 plays in the first quarter and they were all runs by Adrian Peterson and gained 8 yards in 5 carries. The initial first-and-10 play in the second quarter was a pass and went for 19 yards. The mix between running plays and pass plays was better after that and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave knows way more than me about NFL football, no argument. But I think teams are waiting for that first-down running play. And why not try a pass to score what would have been a game-clinching touchdown on the last Minnesota possession? The dropped pass near the goal line by Jarius Wright was big, as was the defense being unable to stop Chicago on the last series. The Vikings should/could have won the game. Peterson’s lost fumble early in the second half was big, as was his decision to try to escape a short loss on that last possession and then ending up with a 13-yard loss that was costly. Thirty points should win a game against the Bears.

-Marxhausen: The Vikings haven’t won at Soldier Field since Oct. 14, 2007. Sunday was the day to break that streak of losing on the road to the Bears. It took 10 plays and 66 yards to drive down the field in the final seconds in the game for Chicago to score a touchdown. On the last play, the Vikings lost tight-end Martellus Bennett with the secondary scrambled and quarterback Jay Cutler delivered the pinpoint throw a wide open Bennett. The Vikings threw everything at them. They had a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown and the offense tried pulling some drives together that put up three field goals. Sure quarterback Christian Ponder did complete one touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph, but the offense was lackluster and did not utilize Adrian Peterson very well. Ponder needs to get the offense going, including the run game, or the team needs to find a new leader to command the offense.

-Larson:  A friend of mine and a huge Vikings fan received this birthday greeting from his son-in-law this past week: “Jeff, I just hired the Vikings to serve as pallbearers at your funeral, whenever that takes place. That way they can let you down one last time.” Let down is likely how many Vikings fans feel after two games. A question on the Vikings is what area of the team will break down when it matters most? Last week it was the defense at the end of the game. What will it be in future games? Consistency is a key to success in any sport and the Vikings have been far from it.

-Johnson: This was a game of special teams and good defensive football.  With the Vikings getting 150 return yards and the Bears adding 263, the NFL may reconsider eliminating kickoffs, which was proposed in recent meetings.  The Vikings lost two fumbles while throwing an interception (which was returned for a TD) and the Bears lost two fumbles while throwing two interceptions.  This was a great example of two teams with poor offenses counting on their defense and special teams to win games.  Unfortunately for the Vikings, they came up short on the scoreboard.  Thank goodness the clock is starting to run out on Christian Ponder’s tenure as quarterback.  I don’t know how many games of interceptions and poorly-led drives it takes for a coach to give up on a guy but the talent has never been there and the development has not happened.  A big part of the problem also resides in the play-calling of Bill Musgrave.  When it is second down and long and you decide to run Adrian Peterson for a dismal three or four yards, you put a lot of pressure on Ponder to come up with first downs when it is third and long.  It is pretty early to call this week’s game against Cleveland a must-win but just 12 percent of teams that have started the season 0-2 have made the playoffs in the history of the NFL.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota football team stopped Western Illinois 29-12 Saturday in a non-conference game at TCF Bank Stadium. The game, which moved the Gophers to 3-0, was overshadowed by the collapse of Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill, who suffered an epileptic seizure for the fourth time at a game in his two-plus seasons at Minnesota. Kill was home resting a few hours after the game after being checked out at a hospital. Some say Kill’s health has become a distraction to the program and he should step down or be removed as coach, while others say the team/program can adjust to the coach’s health problem and move forward just fine. What do you think?

-Dorr: I didn’t think the game was overshadowed by Kill’s health problems. And I think StarTribune columnist  Jim Souhan, who I think is a good columnist and one I have read regularly, was off base with his column in Sunday’s paper, as was his response in Monday’s paper to the emails he received. “You shouldn’t want him to put himself in that position for your entertainment,” he wrote, saying he thought many of the emailers were being cruel and saying that he was not being cruel. I’m wondering how he can tell them that they want Kill in that position for their entertainment.  That statement just doesn’t make sense. If Kill has become a distraction to the program I imagine he will know that and will quit. And maybe that will happen.   It’s not an ideal situation. But I thought Souhan’s take on the situation was ill-advised at this juncture.

-Marxhausen:   I can just imagine the conversation between athletic director Norwood Teague and head coach Jerry Kill. It would start off with Teague asking, “you still want to coach?” Kill’s answer would simply be, “of course.” When it comes down to it Kill wants to coach and the Gophers want him to be on that sideline every Saturday, commanding the troops that they call football players. This is Kill’s team and he should be able to make the decision for staying with the it. There will be some discrepancies they will have to address so they can reduce the possibility of any future complications with his seizures, but the team follows the man they call coach Kill and I am sure they do not want to play for anyone else.

-Larson:  I’m on record as calling Kill’s hiring a questionable hire. Kill’s epilepsy wasn’t public knowledge when he was named coach. The first key to successful Division I programs is recruiting. If a team doesn’t have many prize recruits it’s going to be scrapping for that one good season every four or five years. There were several “name” coaches available who had the recruiting game down pat when Kill was hired. I also was stunned when then athletic director Joel Maturi extended Kill’s contract after Kill had accomplished little. That said, Kill appears to be a good man who has a health issue. That condition can be somewhat controlled. His coaching ability because of the health issue remains to be determined. It’s likely to be an ongoing issue. I don’t know if it’s a distraction but, epilepsy aside, Kill’s coaching ability should be judged on results on the field. The health problem shouldn’t become a crutch. It’s up to athletic director Norwood Teague, or Kill himself, to determine when or if that health issue becomes a distraction and hinders a program that resorts to free food and free tickets to get students to come to a game at a costly new stadium. Numerous players have said Kill’s health isn’t an issue with them. But, what else are they going to say?

I’ll disagree with Luther about Kill’s seizure not overshadowing the game. When 75 percent of the stories about Saturday’s game are about Kill’s health and the stories continue for several days, they’ve overshadowed the victory over Southern Illinois.

-Johnson: Jerry Kill’s job is protected under American Disability Act (ADA), at least in terms of any medically related issues. The media and fan base in Minnesota may have their own opinions but if I were in Kill’s position, I wouldn’t let the seizure disorder stop me from coaching.  I understand it may be distracting and it may cause some additional attention, but open your heart and put yourself in his shoes.  Would you step down?  He cannot change the cards he was dealt. I’m sure Kill is taking proactive measures to counter the disorder but from what I understand of seizures, they are often times triggered by high levels of stress.  Coaching Division I football certainly carries a high level of stress.  If Kill can execute his coaching philosophy and lead the Gophers to a winning program, with seizures or not, I will be a fan.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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