Many Gophers are wounded heading into Battle for the Axe

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2012 - 12:08 AM

Quarterback, receivers, line all could be affected by injuries.

Jerry Kill appeared tired and a little impatient on Tuesday, understandable given how he spent the weekend. He didn't want to talk about his postgame epileptic seizure or his night in the hospital, the university warned before his weekly press conference, and all he would say on the Big Ten's conference call was, "back to work. Going full speed."

If only his team could say the same.

The Gophers are dealing with a plague of injuries as they prepare for Saturday's annual Battle for the Axe in Madison, as if taking on a rival that has dominated the series for the past eight games wasn't challenge enough. The offense, which has not scored more than 17 points in more than a month, has been hit particularly hard.

Starting quarterback MarQueis Gray was wearing a boot on his left leg once more on Tuesday, Kill said, and "he's about like where he was in the off week." Back when he was still too injured to play, in other words.

"He jogged a little bit this morning, and struggled with it," the coach said.

He's not the only one wearing a boot, either; left tackle Ed Olson, the veteran leader of the offensive line, was wearing one on his right foot, the result of a sprain suffered during the third quarter of the Gophers' 21-13 loss to Northwestern on Saturday. The junior "is very questionable and probably won't play," Kill said, meaning sophomore Mark Lenkiewicz would move into the lineup.

Then there's safety Derrick Wells, one of the most important players on the defense, responsible for calling signals to get his teammates in the right place. He is dealing with a laceration on his knee and wore a limited-contact jersey Tuesday, though the Gophers believe he can return Saturday.

And at receiver, the Gophers are worried about three players: Devin Crawford-Tufts, Isaac Fruechte and Marcus Jones, all of whom have varying degrees of leg injuries. Kill called them questionable, though offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was more optimistic.

"That's the beautiful thing about this being Tuesday -- there's a lot of time. They're banged up a little bit, but I don't anticipate it's anything that will prohibit [them] on Saturday from playing," Limegrover said. Still, he said, "when you have a lot of your game plan in on Tuesday and they're not able to go, now it becomes as much of a mental issue" as a physical one.

Gray's injury, after unexpectedly quarterbacking the Gophers for nearly two quarters against Northwestern, likely makes Max Shortell the starter for a fourth consecutive game. Shortell left the game after being hit in the head on the Gophers' second possession, and Gray filled in until re-injuring his leg.

"We did not want to play him at quarterback as much as we did," Limegrover said, and the Gophers were fortunate that Shortell had recovered enough to play again when Gray went down.

While the injuries are a concern, Kill's players said the coach's health was not, or at least not as alarming as after last year's seizure on the TCF Bank Stadium field.

"Going through this a couple times now, we're -- I don't want to say used to it, but we know that he's going to be OK. There's nothing to panic over," said safety Brock Vereen. "We wished him well, and it looks like the wishes worked. We care about him, so of course you're going to be worried. But it's all the motivation in the world [on the field], too -- for him to put his health on the line for us, we want to turn around and give him all the effort we can."

Added receiver A.J. Barker, "last year was definitely more of a surprise, not that it happened but just witnessing it. That was hard. But this year, you understand that he has it, and you trust the medical care that he's getting."

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