Players to celebrate Thanksgiving

The Gophers will eat a Thanksgiving meal together as a team Thursday.

Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers football team will practice Thursday morning before enjoying an early-afternoon Thanksgiving meal together at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

“It’s hard for those kids that are away [from home],” head coach Jerry Kill said, “but they seem to handle it very good because of the nucleus of players we have from the state of Minnesota.”

Associate athletics director for football Dan O’Brien said at Tuesday’s press conference that the team will have a “traditional Northern Thanksgiving with some Southern dishes.”

Gophers redshirt freshman Maxx Williams said the players enjoy the opportunity to spend time together while putting football aside.

Williams, a Waconia, Minn., native, said he will be taking six teammates home that night for dinner with his extended family.

“My grandma’s looking forward to making all that extra food,” Williams said.

Senior defensive back Brock Vereen, a California native, said he’s going to his girlfriend’s house that night, while sophomore quarterback and Mankato, Minn., native Philip Nelson said he wasn’t sure about his Thanksgiving plans yet.

It’s back to work for the Gophers this weekend, as they face No. 11 Michigan State on Saturday morning in East Lansing, Mich.

Murray impresses coaches, teammates

Kill has praised sophomore cornerback Eric Murray throughout the season. Murray, a Milwaukee, Wis., native, leads the Gophers with nine pass breakups and has also recorded 44 tackles.

“We’ve got a lot of general managers and people coming in to see Brock [Vereen], Ra’Shede [Hageman], and every one of them goes, ‘Who’s that guy?” Kill said Tuesday, referring to Murray. “He’s got length, he’s got strength and he can really run.”

Minnesota’s coaching staff has tasked Murray with defending some of the top receivers in the nation this season, such as Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis.

Kill said Murray’s a no-nonsense guy and “doesn’t say a whole lot, but he plays well.”

Vereen said Murray will be well-known around the Big Ten before he leaves Minnesota.

Vereen and Murray lead a Gophers secondary that has allowed 224.1 passing yards per game this season.

Sophomore safety Antonio Johnson said the secondary is playing more physical now than it was at the beginning of the season.

This weekend, the unit will be tasked with stopping Michigan State’s efficient passing offense Saturday. The Spartans average 198.6 passing yards per game — 91st in the nation — but have thrown 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

“They’re built around defense, but they have a good offense, too,” Kill said of Michigan State. “They complement each other very well.”