Halloween without Decker a frightening possibility

It’s still unclear whether the star wideout will be available Oct. 31 against Michigan State.

Marco LaNave

Eric Decker âÄôs foot took a wrong turn last Saturday, but the Gophers hope another season doesnâÄôt take one, too, because of an injury to their All-Big Ten wide receiver and senior captain. Decker was hampered by a high left-ankle sprain in the final weeks of the 2008 season , and brief Rose Bowl dreams collapsed into an Insight Bowl loss that capped a five-game slide. Last Saturday, Decker sprained his left foot on a sideline reception in the first quarter of a scoreless game at Ohio State, and the Gophers let a 7-0 halftime deficit turn into a 38-7 blowout . The loss dropped Minnesota to 2-3 in the Big Ten and 4-4 overall. On Sunday, Gophers head coach Tim Brewster did not say with certainty whether the GophersâÄô career leader in receptions and receiving yards will play on Saturday against Michigan State. âÄúWeâÄôll see, itâÄôs one of those deals where itâÄôs just kind of day-to-day,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúItâÄôs a painful foot right now.âÄù It will be even more painful for the Gophers if Decker, a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award (which goes to the nationâÄôs top receiver) , swaps a jersey and pads for a jacket and wind pants as he did for the second half last Saturday. Decker was injured in the first of five consecutive Gophers losses to end the 2008 season . Though he missed only one full game, the ankle bothered him for the rest of the regular season. Minnesota was 7-1 when Decker injured his left ankle on homecoming Nov. 1 against Northwestern. But a last-minute pass bounced off DeckerâÄôs hands and was intercepted and returned by the Wildcats for the game-winning touchdown , and the rest of the season escaped the Gophers. After DeckerâÄôs second-quarter touchdown reception against Northwestern , the Gophers offense didnâÄôt reach the end zone for the next eight quarters of play . Decker started against Michigan the week after the homecoming defeat, but he caught just one pass for a 3-yard loss and sat out the entire second half of the GophersâÄô 29-6 loss . He did not play in MinnesotaâÄôs 35-32 loss at Wisconsin the following week. He returned to catch two passes for 33 yards in the GophersâÄô 55-0 loss to Iowa to close out the regular season . In the Insight Bowl five and a half weeks later, a healed Decker had eight receptions for 149 yards, but the Gophers still lost 42-21 to Kansas . It was the first of DeckerâÄôs four consecutive 100-yard receiving games, a Gophers record . Decker had fewer than 100 receiving yards just twice through the first six games this season, but the Gophers won both of those games by rushing for 166 and 207 yards in wins over Northwestern and Purdue, respectively. Decker was limited to a single 42-yard reception at Penn State on Oct. 17, but he had three receptions for 27 yards before the injury against the Buckeyes . Although the Gophers longest (and only scoring) drive at Ohio State came against a defense protecting a 38-0 lead, it also came without Decker . Sophomore wide receiver Troy Stoudermire caught three passes, including a 16-yard touchdown from true freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray , who was perfect on the scoring drive. âÄú[From that drive] other teams can see that itâÄôs not all on Deck, and they can see that weâÄôve got other receivers that can catch the ball,âÄù Stoudermire said. Brewster did not explicitly say whether Decker would practice this week. âÄúObviously, if heâÄôs not practicing, then weâÄôve got to prepare for him not to play in the game,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúAny time that a guyâÄôs injured, you plan not to have him, and then if you have him, then obviously itâÄôs a bonus.âÄù If they donâÄôt have Decker, the Gophers will be deprived of one big bonus: more than half of their receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this season . âÄúGuys have got to step up: young receivers, theyâÄôre going to get their chance, so [weâÄôll] see what theyâÄôre made out of,âÄù said senior tight end Nick Tow-Arnett , who is second on the team with 19 reception for 251 yards . The condition for Decker to play on Saturday? âÄúHim just being relatively pain-free,âÄù Brewster said. A foot injury can especially hamper a wide receiver, who has to run routes and make hard cuts at full speed, Brewster said. Coming off of two straight road losses, Minnesota needs a win on Saturday to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since 2007 . âÄúWe canâÄôt just end the season right now,âÄù said Tow-Arnett said. âÄúThis is a game that is going to make our season; weâÄôve got to get back on the winning track.âÄù That means the track record without Decker might have to change.