Sporting a 3-0 record and preparing for its Big Ten opener, the Gophers football team got mainly what the doctor ordered during its bye week.
Rest and relaxation?
Not quite, considering the Gophers hit the practice field three times during their “week off.” More like:
Rest and recuperation.
“First and foremost, the number one goal was health,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Monday, ahead of Saturday’s game against Maryland (2-1) at TCF Bank Stadium. “We got a lot healthier.”
That’s most apparent at running back, a position that was stretched thin during the Gophers’ previous game, a 34-3 victory over Middle Tennessee on Sept. 16. Fleck said both Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are on track to play against the Terrapins.
“As of [Monday], in terms of how it’s looking, they will both be available for Saturday,” Fleck said.
Smith, who leads the Gophers with 275 rushing yards, took a hard hit and was “dinged up,” Fleck said, late in the first half against Middle Tennessee and did not play after halftime. Brooks, the team’s second-leading rusher with 160 yards and its touchdown leader with four, sat out against the Blue Raiders for precautionary reasons because of a shoulder injury.
The Gophers, however, likely will be without cornerback Zo Craighton, who suffered a leg injury late in the Middle Tennessee game. Fleck indicated that Craighton’s absence could be for an extended period but said he would know more later this week.
Fleck also addressed two suspensions.
Quarterback Demry Croft, the co-starter for the season’s first two games, remains indefinitely suspended. Previously, Fleck had said Croft was away from the team because of personal issues.
Wide receiver Rashad Still, who was suspended for the Middle Tennessee game because of undisclosed disciplinary reasons, will return against Maryland.
“I’ve said it before: If you don’t do the right things, you won’t play,” Fleck said. “This is a privilege, not a right.”
When asked if there were any others who played against Middle Tennessee but won’t against Maryland, Fleck responded, “Right now, I can’t think of any.”
On Friday night, Fleck flew by helicopter to Eastview High School in Apple Valley to watch Edina junior tackle Quinn Carroll, then whisked to Lakeville to see Lakeville North junior tackle Bryce Benhart.
Using the chopper was a matter of efficiency, Fleck said.
“You have to find the most efficient way to do it as a football coach,” he said. “It’s done all over the country. It’s been done here before. It’s not a flash tool. It’s a tool to show that we’re going to be able to work the most efficient way possible to see in the in-state talent as best as we possibly can.”
Goldy steals show
With his team in attendance, Fleck blew the Gjallarhorn before the Vikings game against Tampa Bay on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. But it was the Gophers mascot that garnered attention at halftime — and on social media afterward.
Goldy Gopher, playing on a team featuring fellow mascots, took on a team of youth players from Eagan. Goldy got loose on a sweep to the right and barreled over a youngster — in full pads — just before scoring a touchdown.
Fleck, who had to leave the game at halftime, didn’t see Goldy’s hard-nosed running.
“Goldy’s competitive. He’s very competitive,” Fleck said with a smirk. “And he’s proven that. That’s why he’s a national championship mascot. It didn’t matter who he was playing against, Goldy took it to a different level.”
Maybe Fleck has another runner to go along with his “pair and a spare” trio of Smith, Brooks and Kobe McCrary.
“Watch out, Rodney and Shannon, and Kobe,” the coach said.
• The Gophers’ Oct. 7 game at Purdue will begin at 2:30 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPN2.
• Minnesota is ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (8.0 points allowed per game) and rushing defense (59.0 yards allowed per game). In total defense, the Gophers rank fifth nationally (239.0).