Gophers try to heal up during bye week

Minnesota will face Wisconsin on Nov. 23 after more than a week to prepare.

Minnesota defensive back Eric Murray attempts to intercept a pass against Penn State on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota defensive back Eric Murray attempts to intercept a pass against Penn State on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Nate Gotlieb

Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday that this week’s bye couldn’t have come at a better time for his team.

Several key players, including sophomore running back Rodrick Williams Jr., redshirt senior wide receiver Derrick Engel and junior cornerback Derrick Wells, are still recovering from injuries.

“This will be a real critical time for us,” Kill said.

Minnesota will finish the season with rival Wisconsin and Michigan State, statistically the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.

Michigan State is top in the nation in total defense, allowing 210.2 yards per game.

Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in total defense, allowing 295.4 yards per game.

Because of the bye week, the Gophers will have extra time to prepare for both opponents.

Minnesota started its current four-game winning streak Oct. 19 against Northwestern — a game the Gophers had two weeks to prepare for.

Kill said the team won’t handle the bye week any differently this time around.

“We’re playing for something in November,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Gophers in the mix

Legends Division leader Michigan State and second-place Nebraska will play Saturday. For the Spartans, a win would clinch at least a share of the division. For Nebraska, it would mean moving into a tie for first in the division.

Minnesota sits third in the Legends Division. It’s still in the mix for Big Ten title but would need some help down the stretch for that to come to fruition. 

Notes

– The All Sports Association, Inc., announced Monday that Gophers senior kicker Chris Hawthorne is a finalist for the 2013 Wuerffel Trophy, an annual award for the college football player who demonstrates achievement in community service, athletics and academics.

Hawthorne, who’s made 12 of 15 field goals and 35 of 38 point-after attempts this season, is an Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He’s also done nearly 200 hours of community service since September 2009, according to a team release.

– Kill praised sophomore cornerback Eric Murray on Sunday, a day after Murray helped contain Penn State’s Allen Robinson — one of the top receivers in the Big Ten. Murray recovered a fumble and nearly recorded his first career interception in the win over Penn State.

– Former Gophers quarterback and receiver MarQueis Gray stopped by the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Sunday to see Kill and his former team.

– Former Gophers linebacker Lamonte Edwards is now playing for Southern Illinois, where Kill coached from 2001 to 2007. Edwards was kicked off the Gophers this summer for violating team rules.