Wide receiver a position of opportunity for Gophers

Minnesota’s wide receivers don’t get as many looks in a run-heavy offense.

Grant Donald

Wide receiver KJ Maye was willing to do everything he could to find the end zone in the Gophers’ 39-38 victory over Purdue on Saturday — even if it meant jumping over defenders in the process.

Part of the reason Maye so desperately wanted to reach the end zone is that he never knows when his next opportunity to do so might be.

“It’s tough — you know sometimes we go games without even a catch,” Maye said.

Maye’s touchdown catch Saturday was only his second reception in his last four games. And he isn’t the only receiver not receiving an abundance of targets.

The Gophers don’t have a wide receiver on their roster that has recorded double-digit receptions so far this season. However, the Gophers have still managed to put together their best start in the Big Ten since 1990.

A main catalyst of the Gophers’ surprising start is a dominant running game, something head coach Jerry Kill said goes hand-in-hand with Minnesota’s passing attack.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have to be able to throw the football to help the running game,” Kill said. “We progressed in [the passing game] on Saturday, and we hit some big plays, but we’re going to have to continue to hit some big plays down the field.”

On top of Maye’s 37-yard touchdown, redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 42- and 45-yard passes Saturday.

After a shaky, injury-plagued start to the season, Leidner has been playing arguably the best football of his college career.

Since Big Ten play began at the end of September, Leidner has completed 60 percent of his passes while throwing for 485 yards and three touchdowns.

“[Mitch] can throw the ball downfield,” Kill said. “But certainly probably the biggest plus [was] we threw at several different receivers, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Six different players caught passes from Leidner against Purdue.

“The great example is KJ Maye,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “He’s been battling his tail end off all year: blocking, trying to do all the little things we asked him to do. And he benefits [now] because we’re able to find him on a route.”

Maye and the rest of the receivers may have to wait at least another week to see an increase in their targets, as the Gophers travel to Illinois this weekend.

The Illini have the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten this season, giving up an average of 271.1 yards per game on the ground.

Combine that with the fact that Gophers running back David Cobb ranks fourth in the nation in rushing yards, and there will probably be a steady dosage of run plays Saturday.

“[The receivers] are not selfish players; we want to win,” Maye said. “If the run game is working and we are getting 6, 9 yards a carry, then [the receivers] will do what we can to contribute.”

At the same time, Maye and the rest of the Gophers’ receiving corps will have to be ready to perform in the passing game when given the opportunity.

“My mindset coming into the game is that today is going to be my day,” Maye said. “I’m going to get open. I’m going to do whatever I can to put myself in the best position to make some plays.”