Gophers expecting Michigan's Robinson, no less

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2012 - 11:39 AM

They're aware of his elbow injury but don't dare rule him out of Saturday's showdown.

Don't know if the quarterback is healthy? Wondering if he'll be able to play? Worried about practicing without your most important player?

Welcome to Jerry Kill's world, Michigan.

As the Gophers put Saturday's extra-tasty victory over Purdue behind them Sunday and began thinking about the Wolverines, somewhere in Ann Arbor, Denard Robinson presumably received treatment on his throwing elbow. The Michigan senior quarterback suffered nerve damage in his right elbow during the Wolverines' loss at Nebraska on Saturday, an injury that left Robinson unable to grip the football for the second time in three weeks.

How hurt is he? Will Robinson take snaps in TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday? Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Saturday he expects the Big Ten's third-leading rusher in the lineup in Minnesota, but like the Gophers' month of uncertainty about MarQueis Gray's left leg, the Wolverines aren't likely to know for sure until later in the week.

His status may be in doubt. But Kill's intentions aren't.

"We'll prepare for Denard. That's the guy that's going to beat you," the Gophers coach said. "You spend all your time on Denard, and you adjust when the new kid [freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy] comes in. They're built for Denard, so you have to prepare for him."

With 946 yards on the ground and 1,319 through the air, Robinson is personally responsible for 75 percent of the Wolverines offense, and after he left Saturday's game in Lincoln late in the first half, Michigan managed only 44 yards the rest of the way. But he was the trigger man to Michigan's 58-0 humiliation of the Gophers last season, accounting for three touchdowns.

"He's a preparation nightmare, because he's a great player," Kill said Sunday. "I'll be glad when [he's] gone, because there's nobody in the Big Ten more dynamic than him."

Maybe some day, coaches will say such nice things about the Gophers' new quarterback, Philip Nelson, who put on a scintillating passing display in the first half of the 44-28 drubbing of Purdue on Saturday. "The kid was in rhythm," Kill said a day after Nelson completed 12 consecutive passes, threw three touchdown strikes and led the Gophers on seven consecutive scoring drives. "[In the] first half, he played about as good as you can have a quarterback play."

But even his breakout performance was nearly marred by the rash of injuries that have afflicted Gophers quarterbacks this year. Late in the first quarter, Nelson completed a long pass that Gray, the former starting quarterback now playing receiver, dived to catch inside the Purdue 5. Nelson was hit by tackle Kawann Short as he released the ball, and seemed shaken up by the blow.

Kill called for Max Shortell, but hesitated, and the game was delayed because Short appeared injured. "Philip got up a little slow, but he had extra time, which was good. If we wouldn't have had extra time, I would have put Max in," Kill said. "I actually walked out on the field and called him over, said, 'Hey, are you OK? If had felt any uncomfortability, we would have put Max in. We've been doing that in practice."

Nelson stayed in and played the whole game; for the second consecutive week, he avoided being sacked, despite playing behind a game-but-patchwork offensive line. Did Kill consider giving the freshman the fourth quarter off, once Minnesota's lead grew to 44-7?

"Not really. Philip really never got hit a lot, so he was in pretty good rhythm, and you don't want to take someone out of that rhythm," Kill said. "Then late in the game, with our [recent] struggles, I never felt safe until the game was over, to be honest."

Notes

• Linebacker Mike Rallis' playing time was curtailed during the game in favor of backup Brendan Beal because of a sprained ankle, Kill said, an injury that prevented Rallis from pushing off with his foot. Fellow linebackers Lamonte Edwards and James Manuel suffered hamstring soreness, but Kill said he's not certain how serious the injuries are. Safety Derrick Wells will need to have his knee restitched for the second week in a row, Kill said, which might cost him some practice time. And the coach reiterated that's he particularly worried about A.J. Barker, the Gophers' leading receiver, who was hit on his foot in the end zone, causing a sprain in the back of his ankle as he rolled up on his toes. Barker didn't play in the second half, but Kill didn't want to switch punt returners in the middle of the game, so the training staff taped him up and had him try to run on it. He couldn't, and Kill used Marcus Jones instead.

• As many as five dozen Gophers will have their hair shaved off as part of a juvenile-cancer fundraiser at 1 p.m. Monday at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com

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    Monday October 29, 2012

    The quarterback sensed a staff in transition, a big reason why he chose to play for the Gophers and Jerry Kill instead.

  • Gophers-Purdue game replay

    Sunday October 28, 2012

    The recap: Philip Nelson played like an experienced veteran, leading the Gophers on seven consecutive scoring drives, and the defense made it hold up.

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