Wide receivers assist running game

Maye, Carter and Wolitarsky made key blocks Saturday in an away victory.

Wide receiver KJ Maye enters the end zone, scoring a touchdown in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 19, where the Gophers defeated Kent State 10-7.

Melissa Scharf / Daily File Photo

Wide receiver KJ Maye enters the end zone, scoring a touchdown in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 19, where the Gophers defeated Kent State 10-7.

by Mike Hendrickson

Last week, Minnesota’s offense went back to its roots, which meant running the ball — a lot.
 
After being smothered by Northwestern University’s defense two weeks ago, the Gophers ran the ball 48 times on Saturday against Purdue University and gained 326 yards.
 
It wasn’t just the running backs that helped the ground game thrive, but the wide receivers assisted too with their blocking. The running game also opened up options in the passing game for the few times the Gophers threw during the game.
 
“There are a few factors that helped our offense on Saturday,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “One of the biggest [ones] … [was] the wide receivers.” 
Limegrover said the wide receivers that stood out in Saturday’s game were senior KJ Maye, redshirt sophomore Eric Carter and junior Drew Wolitarsky.
 
Even though the group only finished with two catches and 22 yards, Limegrover said their blocking was key in opening up the ground game and establishing play-action passes.
 
“The way we do things, the better you block, the more you’re going to get your opportunities to catch balls,” Limegrover said. “Those things go hand in hand.”
 
The opening of the third quarter emphasized that. The Gophers ran the ball 11 straight times to open the quarter, then redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner floated a pass to sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen, who was by himself in the end zone. On the next drive, Leidner found Lingen again for a touchdown after the Gophers handed the ball off five times in a row.
 
“If you go back and watch that game film and watch some of the blocks that [Maye], Wolitarsky and Eric Carter made that game, it’s unreal,” Leidner said. “It makes the offensive line want to work harder because they see little guys like that throwing their bodies around.”
 
In four out of the first five games, the Gophers passed the ball 30 or more times. Against Purdue, they only passed 18 times, with just eight attempts in the second half.
 
The Gophers offense came alive in the second half, scoring 21 points on their own in the third quarter after rushing for 157 yards.
 
Of the seven different rushers for the Gophers in Saturday’s game, freshman Shannon Brooks led with 176 yards on 17 carries.
 
On one play, Brooks ran for a 71-yard touchdown. On the run, both Maye and Carter were downfield making blocks within the 30-yard line.
 
“Those are really the most important blocks, besides the linemen, are the downfield blocks,” Brooks said. “That’s what makes the big plays, the big runs.”
 
Limegrover said Maye, Wolitarsky and Carter all have similarities with former Gophers wide receiver Isaac Fruechte.
 
Fruechte made run-blocking his specialty in games, and he became more involved on play-action passes as a result of it.
 
“We were able to hit [Fruechte] with some deep play-actions and got him more involved in the pass game because of the threat of running,” Limegrover said. “[The wide receivers] understand that, and Drew Wolitarsky and [Maye] and [Carter] all do a great job with [run blocking].”