Gophers look for green light in red zone

The formula for Minnesota seems pretty simple: to play 13 (games, that is), the Gophers must score more than 13 (points).

Jerry Kill's team is 5-0 this season in games where it has eclipsed the 13-point barrier. The Gophers have scored exactly 13 points in each of their four losses, all in Big Ten play. Talk about an unlucky number.

Minnesota ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring (23.9 ppg), and its struggles to eclipse 13 points would suggest a unit that hasn't had many scoring opportunities. But that's not the case.

Despite using three different starting quarterbacks and having some injury issues throughout the offense, Minnesota has moved the ball decently, even in its Big Ten losses.

The Gophers had eight drives reach Northwestern territory in a 21-13 loss Oct. 13. They had seven drives reach Michigan territory in last Saturday's 35-13 loss.

The opportunities are there, but Minnesota repeatedly hasn't capitalized, particularly in the red zone. The Gophers rank 10th in the Big Ten and tied for 86th nationally in red-zone scoring percentage (76.7), and they're also 10th in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage (.533 or 16-for-30).

Minnesota scored just one touchdown on six combined red-zone chances against Northwestern (0-for-2) and Michigan (1-for-4). Although the offense has perfect red-zone touchdown ratios in four games, it has converted at 50 percent or worse in the other five games, including a 1-for-6 mark in the season opener against UNLV.

"We've had guys open, we've had some opportunities for some runs," Kill said. "Running option, we've had a chance to pull the ball or give the ball, those kinds of things. We just haven't made plays that are critical for us to be successful."

It hasn't been for a lack of trying.

"We've emphasized it my last 30 years of coaching," Kill said. "We spend a lot of time working on red zone all week, but again, at the end of the day, you've got to be able to make some plays. It's certainly getting plenty of attention and detail, and it has for a long time."

Minnesota hopes to turn around its red-zone woes Saturday at Illinois, which has surrendered more red-zone touchdowns (18) and more red-zone scoring opportunities (26) than any Big Ten team. The Illini have surrendered a league worst 15 red-zone rushing touchdowns, which could bode well for the Gophers, who have just one red-zone rushing touchdown in their first five Big Ten games.

"Sooner or later," Kill said after the Michigan loss, "you have got to make a play."