When the Gophers football team faces Purdue on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., it will be doing so without at least one starting safety and likely both.
Coach P.J. Fleck on Monday said that senior safety Duke McGhee will remain suspended for the game against the Boilermakers because of a violation of team rules but that McGhee has returned to the team.
The other starting safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., is questionable because of a left hamstring injury suffered Saturday in the Gophers’ 31-24 loss to Maryland. “We’ll see,’’ Fleck answered when asked about Winfield’s playing status.
Winfield originally injured the hamstring during training camp and missed practice time.
The loss of Winfield, the Gophers’ top playmaker in the secondary, stood out against Maryland and elusive wide receiver DJ Moore.
“Your whole game plan is designed around No. 11 [Winfield] covering No. 1 [Moore], and No. 1 has a big game and our guy’s out in the first quarter,’’ Fleck said. “That’s football.’’
Things won’t get any easier for the Gophers (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) against Purdue (2-2, 0-1), which has become an offensive threat under new coach Jeff Brohm.
“When you look at every football play that’s known to man, he probably runs it within a course of game, whether it’s flea-flicker, whether it’s reverse, whether it’s trickery, whether it’s screens, inside zone, power, counter, option,’’ Fleck said. “He does so much, and it’s so hard to defend because there are a lot of people who are involved in it. It’s like playing option football, because you have to be so disciplined on your responsibility that if you lose track of your responsibility and they know that, they’ll kill you.’’
With Winfield and McGhee out, true freshman Ken Handy-Holly saw his first action, playing 14 snaps.
“I thought he played well,’’ Fleck said. “He did what he was supposed to do. You could tell it was his first experience that he ever had playing college football.’’
Sophomore cornerback Coney Durr, who tore an ACL against Washington State in the Holiday Bowl last year, also saw his first action of the season against Maryland.
“He’s capable of playing, but in his own mind he’s got to get back that trust,’’ Fleck said.
Depth remains a concern in the secondary so much that Fleck on Sunday mentioned he’s considering moving wide receivers to the defensive backfield. On Monday, he said he’s still mulling it over.
“I don’t know which ones yet,’’ Fleck said. “That is the next step, because there isn’t anyone else.’’
Croft still suspended
Fleck said quarterback Demry Croft, who has missed the past two games, remains indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. When asked if there was a path for Croft to return to the team, Fleck responded, “Eventually.’’
“They have to earn that, though,’’ the coach said of suspended players returning. “Again, I’m not going to sacrifice what happens on Saturdays and sacrifice doing the right things and creating a culture of accountability, discipline, responsibility. I’m not going to compromise that for a win.’’
• Fleck said he expects that true freshman wide receiver Demetrius Douglas, who has appeared in three games, will qualify for a medical redshirt because of an undisclosed injury. “If he didn’t have a very, very high possibility of getting it, I wouldn’t do it.’’
• The Gophers’ Oct. 14 home game against Michigan State will be a 7 p.m. start on the Big Ten Network.
• Brohm said he expects quarterback David Blough, who has been limited because of a shoulder sprain, to be able to play Saturday. “I’m optimistic that will happen, barring any setbacks,’’ Brohm said. Blough, a junior, has started two games and sophomore Elijah Sindelar the other two.
• Brohm said Purdue’s leading rusher, sophomore Tario Fuller, is a long shot to play. He suffered a left foot injury against Michigan on Sept. 23.Sophomore Brian Lankford-Johnson, who played his sophomore high school year at Cretin-Derham Hall before moving to Melbourne, Fla., is Purdue’s second-leading rusher with 83 yards on 21 carries.