Offense boasts abundance of playmakers

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner could have a tough time getting the ball to everyone.

by Jack Satzinger

At 6 feet 4 inches, 250 pounds, with agile feet and mitts for hands, Maxx Williams is a mismatch for defenses.

After not being a target for nearly the entire first half in Minnesota’s 42-20 victory over Eastern Illinois on Thursday, the redshirt sophomore tight end hurdled over two defenders and scampered for 25 yards – making SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays in the process.

“I knew my time would come, and when it came, I took my best chance at it,” Williams said Tuesday.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner targeted Williams only three times in Minnesota’s season opener. But when asked about the lack of touches, Williams shrugged off questions.

“It’s his offense. He’s out there running it,” Williams said. “Whatever it is in the game he does, we’re just going to go with him. We’ll back him and just go out there and try to make plays for him.”

Williams is an elite talent — possibly the Big Ten’s top tight end — but he’s no longer one of a few players for Minnesota who can turn an ordinary play into an extraordinary highlight.

For arguably the first time in head coach Jerry Kill’s tenure, the Gophers have a strong mix of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. But the challenge for offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover in the booth upstairs, and for Leidner on the field, will be getting each of them involved this season.

“That’s a nice problem to have,” Limegrover said.

Passing threats

Last season, Williams led the Gophers in receiving yards and burst onto the scene making athletic touchdown grabs in the end zone.

With all of the accolades coming Williams’ way going into his second season, defenses are starting to key in on him.

“People are going to put their best guy on Maxx, and they’re probably going to put a couple guys on Maxx,” Leidner said. “He’s obviously another guy this week that we’re going to get in the game plan more and get him more touches as well.”

But other Gophers receivers could get more involved as well.

Even after Kill said KJ Maye had the best fall camp of anyone on the team, Leidner didn’t target the junior receiver once against Eastern Illinois.

“It was tough [with] some of the things they were doing defensively last week, but we know KJ’s a playmaker, and we’ve got to get him the ball,” Leidner said. “There’s going to be a lot more things we do this week to get him some touches.”

Maye is a speedy receiver, but so is sophomore Donovahn Jones, who broke a tackle Thursday en route to a 35-yard touchdown.

Fellow sophomore receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who was productive at the end of last season, should play this week after missing last week’s game to an injury.

Add a healthy Wolitarsky to Jones, Maye and Williams — not to mention redshirt senior Isaac Fruechte — and Leidner has a lot of throwing options.

Stacked backfield

Running back David Cobb finished 27th in the nation last year with 1,202 rushing yards and is the surefire starter in Minnesota’s backfield.

But Cobb is flanked by multiple talented running backs that specialize in different areas.

Limegrover called junior Rodrick Williams a “bruiser.”

Kill described redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards as “lightning in a bottle.”

And Donnell Kirkwood, who was the starter in 2012, brings added depth.

Rodrick Williams carried the ball six times for 19 yards in the season opener and caught a pass for six yards.

Edwards rushed for two touchdowns last week in his career debut, and Leidner targeted him through the air.

“We’d like to increase his workload every week a little bit and get him more involved,” Limegrover said. “We want to make sure when he gets his touches that we’re maximizing those opportunities for big plays for him.”

Increasing the amount of touches was a common theme at the Gophers’ press conference Tuesday and could be a talking point all season as Minnesota’s skill players mature with their redshirt sophomore quarterback.