Wide receiver Jamel Harbison worked his way onto the field in Thursday's opener at UNLV as a true freshman because he was just too good for Gophers coach Jerry Kill to hold back for a year.
Injuries, however, have a way of altering plans. Harbison tore his ACL in the 30-27 triple-overtime victory, Kill said Saturday, and will miss the rest of the season. The only silver linings? Harbison didn't play enough to burn a year of eligibility, so he will have four remaining when he returns next year after what is typically a six-to-nine-month rehabilitation following surgery. Also, the Gophers wide receivers, at least against UNLV, looked to be deeper as a group than perhaps previously anticipated.
"The good Lord is probably telling us we need to redshirt him anyway," Kill said of Harbison. He added later, "Am I disappointed? Yeah, I think Jamel had a chance to be one of our premier offensive players. At the same time, I know I've got him for four years."
Harbison, a 5-11 North Carolina native who stood out in fall camp, was tackled hard on his right knee during a running play in the second quarter, though Kill wasn't sure exactly when the injury occurred.
He didn't end up with a reception in the game, but nine other Gophers did -- including A.J. Barker (three catches for 101 yards) and Devin Crawford-Tufts (four for 49).
"Receiver has been a situation where what we got Thursday was a plus for us," Kill said. "We were behind people all night long."
Upon film review
Indeed, receivers were behind UNLV's defensive backs all night. But quarterback MarQueis Gray's overthrows tended to overshadow that good news, particularly when evaluated by the Gophers faithful.
Kill, too, wasn't shy about stating the impact of those missed opportunities.
"In retrospect, there were at least, in my opinion, nine shots we had down the field with people wide open where we didn't put it on them," Kill said. "You get half of those, that's 30 points. ... You've got to make those shots."
The coach said Gray was too excited and never settled in until overtime.
"He's been on target in camp," Kill said. "You get juiced up, and that ball instead of being right on the money is a foot or a yard [off]."
• On offense, in addition to his wide receivers, Kill singled out his running backs as well as linemen Josh Campion and Zac Epping for strong performances.
• With the home opener Saturday against New Hampshire, Kill is turning more attention back to selling his program in addition to coaching his team. "I talked to all the new students [Friday] night ... and that was a lot of people to talk to," he said. "With all those kids, it's like I told them, if they are there every Saturday, that's a big thing."