Kill searches for playmaker as receivers battle injuries

Samuel Gordon

Gophers head coach Jerry Kill says it all the time: “Somebody needs to make a play.”

But nobody made a play in last week’s loss against Michigan.

And this week Minnesota will probably be without one of its best playmakers, wide receiver A.J. Barker, for the second-straight week.

Barker injured his ankle while scoring his team-leading seventh touchdown in the Gophers’ 44-28 win over Purdue on Oct. 27.

He didn’t play against the Wolverines, and his absence left an opportunity for others to shine.

And nobody shined.

Michigan cornerbacks played bump-and-run coverage against Minnesota receivers who had a hard time getting behind Wolverines defenders.

“We missed on some throws. We missed on a couple of critical situations on third downs,” Kill said. “You’ve got to convert those things.”

Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson seemed to gel with Barker against Purdue, but he looked lost without him against Michigan.

“He’s a great receiver, and he’s definitely missed in our rotation, but we definitely have some other guys that can step up,” Nelson said. “I have a lot of faith in our other receivers.”

Barker’s absence this weekend could mean more opportunities for wide receivers Isaac Fruechte and Devin Crawford-Tufts.

Both receivers had high expectations coming into the season, and neither has delivered.

Crawford-Tufts has been hampered by hamstring injuries this season, and Fruechte’s emergence has been halted by a concussion.

“They’re both long and can run,” Kill said. “I’d like to see those guys step up a little bit. I think it’s important for us.”

Wide receiver Derrick Engel, who has made a few plays this year and is second on the team in receiving yards, is also questionable for Saturday’s game.

Engel tweaked his hamstring in the fourth quarter against Michigan and says he’s “cautiously optimistic” he will play this Saturday.

Engel had 45 yards receiving last week and acknowledged the passing game’s struggles against Michigan.

He said 250 yards passing is the goal this week against Illinois.

“We knew as a unit we needed to step up in that game,” Engel said. “We still have to make bigger plays down field to be successful.”