On a day when there weren’t many compliments for Jerry Kill to dole out, the Gophers coach reserved his words of kindness for wide receiver Derrick Engel.
He didn’t go on and on — Kill’s answer spanned all of 17 seconds — but he made it clear that when the coaches review video from the Gophers’ 23-7 loss to Iowa, the Engel highlights, for the most part, would represent rare moments that wouldn’t call for a wince.
Engel had 67 yards on five catches — both season highs — and scored Minnesota’s only touchdown on a 23-yard pass from Philip Nelson. The Gophers will need to rely on their passing game more in Big Ten play, and Engel’s day, while somewhat modest, was a bright spot.
“Derrick did a good job, he really did,” Kill said. “We’re going to be pleased with what he did [when reviewing the tape]. I think there were some people who did some good things, but as a whole team we got outplayed today, and that’s as simple as I can put it.”
That Engel was one of the day’s would-be heroes is a bit out of character for the Gophers, the sixth-best running team in the NCAA at 282 yards per game entering Saturday.
Engel hasn’t gotten a ton of work this season. In fact, no other Minnesota player has been on the receiving end of more than three passes on a single day all season or come close to racking up 67 yards in a game.
Before Saturday, Engel’s previous high for the year was 51 yards at New Mexico State, but the Chaska native hadn’t had more than three receptions in any game.
But with the running game stalling — the Gophers gained only 30 yards on 27 carries — Engel became a critical piece of the offense.
“They were playing a lot of man on me in solo coverage,” he said. “I was able to kind of work that guy for the whole game, get his hips moving and stuff so I ended up being the guy that was supposed to get the throw.”
The 6-2, 187-pound senior was targeted eight times, connecting on five, making him by far quarterback Nelson’s most successful option. Nelson had only seven other completions and was intercepted twice. Of the three times he was targeted and didn’t make a catch, Engel was open and overthrown twice.
“I thought [Nelson] played well. He just missed a couple throws that could have changed the game for us,” Engel said. “It comes down to five, 10 plays that could flip-flop the game either way.
“I think he saw some pressure on the deep one when we were down 20-7 — he had to get rid of that pretty quick, throwing on his back foot. We’ve just got to learn from it, work on it in practice and get our timing down and hopefully we can get the completion percentage up next week.”