Tai’yon Devers made another big hit to force another fumble Saturday, but the Gophers freshman sensation suffered a left ankle injury later in the game and didn’t return.
The injury didn’t appear serious, as Devers had the ankle taped and was jogging on the sideline, trying to return. The Gophers hope he heals quickly heading into next week’s Big Ten opener at Penn State.
“He’s awesome,” Gophers safety Damarius Travis said. “He’s a really good guy, coming off the edge.”
With the Gophers leading Colorado State 14-7 in the second quarter, the 6-4, 215-pound Devers sped around the edge and hit Collin Hill in the chest so hard, the quarterback’s helmet popped off, just as the ball popped free.
Gaelin Elmore recovered for the Gophers, who turned the turnover into a field goal.
It was the third time Devers has crushed a quarterback, forcing a fumble. He did it twice against Oregon State quarterback Darell Garretson in the season opener, leading to consecutive touchdowns.
He got ejected from that game in the fourth quarter for targeting and had to miss the first half of the Indiana State game. But it’s clear when he’s on the field, he’s a threat. He enters primarily in third-and-long situations.
“If we can put teams in situations where they have to throw the ball all the time, he’s a great weapon,” coach Tracy Claeys said.
“If teams are going to run the ball, he’s just not big enough, really, to do that. He’s only a freshman and he will grow a little bit, but he’s definitely a very talented kid.”
Freshman Carter Coughlin got his first start at linebacker and made six tackles, but he left with an unspecified arm injury in the second half.
Starting right guard Vincent Calhoun missed the game with a toe injury suffered in the Indiana State game.
“I thought [Calhoun] would play,” Claeys said. “His toe was bothering him enough. Everybody was like, ‘If we can get him another week off. Otherwise, it’s the same thing, we could be dealing with it all year long, so we went ahead and decided not to play him.”
The 6-4, 305-pound Jared Weyler got the start at right guard in the 6-4, 330-pound Calhoun’s absence.
“We missed big Vince,” Claeys said. “Jared is not quite as big as Vince is, but he will fight you.”
The Gophers scored touchdowns on four of their five trips to the red zone, leaving them 13-for-14 in that department this season. They settled for a short field goal in the second quarter after having first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and getting stuffed on three runs.
Still, new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s group is dramatically outperforming last year’s squad, which ranked 105th in the country in converting just 52.8 percent of red zone trips into touchdowns.
“That’s something we emphasize a lot in practice, scoring in the red zone,” quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “And Coach Jay does a great job of play calling down there. Once you get it down there, it’s tough to stop Rodney [Smith], Shannon [Brooks] and Kobe [McCrary]. That’s a lot of horsepower coming at you.”