The Gophers are listed as 5½-point favorites over Central Michigan heading into the Dec. 28 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. But the Chippewas will present definite challenges with their passing offense and passing defense.
Central Michigan went 6-2 in Mid-American Conference play, led by junior quarterback Cooper Rush, who ranked 11th in the nation in passing yardage (308.6 per game).
“Their quarterback’s way better than the quarterback from Colorado State,” Gophers cornerback Eric Murray said. “So that’ll be a challenge. He’s very accurate.”
The Chippewas also led the MAC in pass defense, allowing 190.5 yards per game. Gophers coach Tracy Claeys compared them to Ohio, another MAC school that the Gophers defeated 27-24 in September.
“The difference would be on offense,” Claeys said. “They throw it around. Colorado State — both of those teams gave us some problems.”
Starting defensive tackles Steven Richardson (calf injury) and Scott Ekpe (concussion) were moving around during practice, though neither took part in tackling drills. Cornerback Jalen Myrick (punctured lung) and running back Rodney Smith (sprained ankle) were in green nonparticipation jerseys.
All four have a chance to return for the bowl game.
“If we can get them practicing by Monday, then I’ll feel good about them having enough time to get ready,” Claeys said.
Claeys on bonuses
The university will pay the Gophers coaches $272,775 in bonuses for reaching this bowl, honoring the language in each of their contracts. Retired coach Jerry Kill still gets 58 percent of his bonus, or $29,000, and Claeys gets a total bonus of $50,773.
“It’s an extra month’s work, it’s an extra month of practice preparing for game day, and it’s in the contract,” Claeys said. “I think they’re well-deserved.”
Praise for Murray
Murray is the team’s highest-projected NFL draft pick and has been picked to compete in the Senior Bowl next month.
“He’s the best overall player that I have ever coached,” Claeys said. “When you talk about how physical he is, how well he runs. He may make a mistake once, but you show him, and he’ll correct it.”
Asked about people who might be rolling their eyes about this bowl, quarterback Mitch Leidner said: “I mean, either hop on the bandwagon or don’t hop on. It’s as simple as that. You’ve got a bunch of guys out here competing and working hard for the state of Minnesota every single day, and if you can’t respect us for that, then I feel like you’ve got something wrong with you. Because you could come through these doors and follow us around every day and try and do what we do, there’s no way you’re going to be able to do it.”
• The Gophers marching band will be making the trip to the Quick Lane Bowl, traveling by bus.
• The Gophers do not expect to have any underclassmen declare early for the NFL draft, as tight end Maxx Williams did last year following his redshirt sophomore season.