Gophers coming off bye week healthier than their Big Ten opponent

Minnesota opens Big Ten play this weekend against Maryland.

Head coach P.J. Fleck cheers on players after the Gophers scored a touchdown on Saturday, Sept. 16 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Courtney Deutz

Head coach P.J. Fleck cheers on players after the Gophers scored a touchdown on Saturday, Sept. 16 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

by Drew Cove

Conference play is set to begin, and Minnesota is looking to stay undefeated.

The Gophers have a better chance of doing that with their top-two running backs returning, and it looks like they will win Saturday.

Head coach P.J. Fleck told reporters Monday that both Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks should be ready to play Saturday.

Both backs missed time in the last game. Brooks suited up but didn’t play, and Smith played in the first half before falling to injury at the end of the half, getting no play time in the second half.

Minnesota went to Maryland last year and won 31-10, and it was quarterback Conor Rhoda’s first collegiate start.

“I think I’m more fine-tuned on the little things now,” Rhoda said. “I don’t think there’s a huge difference necessarily, just straight skill level from where I was [this time last year].”

Maryland had showed offensive promise early in the season, but in its upset win versus Texas in the first game, the Terrapins’ starting quarterback suffered a season-ending injury.

The reins were handed to freshman Kasim Hill, but it didn’t take long for him to suffer a season-ending injury as well, which came in the third game of the season.

Hill’s status was updated to out for the season with a torn ACL on Tuesday.

Third-stringer, quarterback Max Bortenschlager, played the rest of the Terrapins’ last game when they lost to Central Florida and will most likely start against the Gophers this Saturday.

“[Bortenschlager] has worked incredibly hard,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “He won in high school, he got a scholarship like everybody else, and he’s just been waiting for his opportunity.”

Minnesota used the bye week to practice, rest and recruit.

Fleck flew in a helicopter to a game where four-star, Edina High School recruit Quinn Carroll was playing, and he donned a Minnesota jersey with Carroll’s number, 75.

“The reason for going there is the efficiency to be able to see recruits,” Fleck said. “It’s not just to make an impact, and create a lot of wind around a high school stadium.”

Other notes:

-Fleck told reporters Monday that quarterback Demry Croft is still suspended from the team.

-Fleck said the team will host the 1967 Big Ten Championship Minnesota team at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, the last Gophers team to win the Big Ten.

-Fleck said on KFAN 100.3 FM Tuesday starting center Jared Weyler was limited in practice this week, and is not certain to play against Maryland.