Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
Gopher football will be without its best receiver in a must-win game at Illinois, Gopher hoops tips off their season against American University (how patriotic!) and Gopher Hockey skates up in Alaska against Anchorage this weekend. Maybe they can get in a game of shinny with the Mystery Alaska guys between games?
We haven't done a Nugz in awhile, so a ton of links to help you avoid work on what will be a very busy weekend for Gopher sports...
By now you know the Gophers need to win their roadie at Illinois on Saturday, as it's their last, best chance to get to a sixth win and bowl eligibility before closing the season with Nebraska and Michigan State. Let's start with Nate Sandell and 1500ESPN, who says the Gophers are not going to even think about missing a bowl game. Players and coaches both realize the importance of this one, but it doesn't sound like they're overconfident about winning, just very focused on getting the job done in Champaign.
And getting the win got tougher with news from that same story that two of the Gophers' top receivers, AJ Barker and Derrick Engel will not play due to injury:
With both out of the mix, the Gophers are lacking on options at receiver. Barker and Engel are responsible for 44% of the team's total receiving yards (792 out of 1797), with Barker controlling the bulk of those numbers.
First of all, before this season started could you even imagine saying "top receivers AJ Barker and Derrick Engel" with a straight face? Both juniors are former walk-ons who we thought at best would just provide depth this season. Instead they've been two of the most consistent guys on the team. A funny game, this. With the absence of two key guys, Kill called out the rest of his receivers to step up:
The depletion of targets means the Gophers need an increased output from the rest of the receiving corps, primarily senior MarQueis Gray, sophomore Isaac Fruechte and sophomore Devin Crawford-Tuft. Kill has called out his receivers, specifically Crawford-Tufts, demanding the group understands the elevated roles they must take on.
"We made our point pretty clear yesterday," Kill said. "We had a pretty intense practice and little bit of intensity after practice. They understand they need to step up, several of them."
DCT has been almost invisible since he missed a game due to injury a few weeks ago (I think it was Wisconsin but am having trouble remembering). He is probably still ailing, but man does the offense need him this weekend. Ditto Fruechte and freshman Andre McDonald, as those three are all big kids with ability, and need to show they can get open and make plays to help Philip Nelson. This will also be an opportunity to get the ball to Marcus Jones and KJ Maye more, and you can't get the ball in their hands enough for my liking.
The offensive line also continues to be banged up, as it sounds like both Olson boys will be listed as backups and not starters. The O-line played exceptionally well against Purdue two weeks ago, but was hit or miss against a really good Michigan defense last week. The time to shine for those guys is now to make things as easy as possible for Nelson and the offense.On defense, Phil Miller (who, if you haven't heard, is leaving the Gopher beat to cover the Twins next year, with Joe Christensen moving over to cover Gopher football. No offense to Joe, but #TEAMBEARDFORLIFE!) chronicles senior end DL Wilhite's quest for a sack record, and completing a degree. He'll definitely have a life, and from the sounds of it an interesting one, after football. His fellow linemate Ra'Shede Hageman is just a junior but is already thinking about life after Gopher football- in the NFL. Selfishly, here's hoping Hageman returns to the U next year to increase his draft stock, because losing him AND Wilhite would be big losses, both figuratively and literally.
The PP's Marcus Fuller makes the understatement of the week by writing that the Gopher linebackers are still a work in progress. That's putting it mildly.
Matt at FBT has his Models and Bottles predictions for the Illinois game.
Gopher hoops officially begins their season tonight against American University. Yes, that's a real school, and yes, they'll probably put up about as much of a fight as the D2 schools the Gophers tuned up on in the exhibition. But it still means the season is finally under way.
The Strib has five critical questions for Gopher hoops, Amelia has a good story on PG Andre Hollins, Chip Scoggins says there's no more do-overs for Trevor Mbakwe, and Tubby announced that freshman Charles Buggs won't be redshirted.
Down With Goldy previews tonight's game.
The Daily says questions remain as Gopher hoops opens their season. Not so much a question, but a comment: neither Mbakwe or Mo Walker will be starting tonight. Can't see that lasting very long, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of mintues Tubby gives them tonight.
Michael Russo writes that the Gophers are trying to refocus while Jess Myers at 1500ESPN says the Gophers are hoping their trip to Anchorage will spark more dominant play. The Gophers haven't played poorly this season, but with a team this talented, they can definitely play better, especially away from home where they're just 1-2 this year.
Minnesota Wild draft pick Erik Haula does it all for the Gophers.