Ranking second-to-last in conference, Gophers receiving core looks for improvement

The Gophers average 173 passing yards per game.

Wide receiver Demetrius Douglas runs with the ball against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 16 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Wide receiver Demetrius Douglas runs with the ball against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 16 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Warrick

The Gophers have relied on the ground game to stay undefeated through three nonconference games this year.

But what about the passing game?

The Gophers currently rank second-to-last in the Big Ten in terms of passing yards per game with an average of 173. Rutgers (1-3) is the only team with less, with 164 average yards per game. The best receiving team in the Big Ten is Ohio State (4-1) with 319 yards and three receiving touchdowns per game. 

“My confidence level is we have what we have and I believe in the guys we put on the field to be able to do that job, but a lot of the guys we put on that field haven’t had the game experience to prove it yet,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “We’re going to run our offense.”

Underclassmen play a big part of the receiving core, as the depth chart lists four of six receivers as underclassmen. The two leading receivers, Tyler Johnson and Demetrius Douglas, are also underclassmen.

“You’re not just going to be the best wideout in the country the first rep you take,” Fleck said. “We’ve got to speed that up for these players and that’s why you’re going to start to see this youth movement of all these guys coming in inexperienced.”

Gophers sophomore wide receiver Tyler Johnson has been quarterback Conor Rhoda’s favorite target, and is the fifth leading receiver in the Big Ten with 282 yards in three games.

However, he was shut down last game with just 14 yards on two catches.

“I feel like a lot of guys are going to start targeting him… they should be with the big numbers he’s put up,” said wide receiver Eric Carter. “He’s been getting open, and they’ve been working him.” 

Demetrius Douglas, a true freshman, was recruited as the No. 2 cornerback in Oregon out of high school  but has adapted to play wide receiver, and has the second most receiving yards on the team with 83.

Carter has played in 32 games with the Gophers and racked up 384 yards and a touchdown in his career. He came into the program wearing a redshirt along with Rhoda in the 2013 season.

“We’ve been here for five years now and I feel like I can throw [Carter] the ball with my eyes closed,” Rhoda said.

The two most experienced wide receivers on the team have less than 100 yards combined this season. Carter has one catch and 23 yards this season and Junior Rashad Still has no catches on the season.

“I’m the oldest one in there,” Carter said. “They’re a very young group but one thing is, the way that they work, and the way that they do things on and off the field — it’s a very mature group of guys.”

Still was suspended last week, but Fleck said he’s ready to go this time around.

“If you do the right things you’ll be on the football field,” Fleck said. “He’ll be back this week.”