The Gophers will have eight starters out with injuries for Saturday’s game at Purdue, coach Jerry Kill told KFAN (100.3-FM) on Thursday.
Kill declined to give specifics, so as not to help Purdue with its game plan. The team’s depth chart and injury report offered some clues.
Kill said two offensive linemen are out. The depth chart actually has injured left tackle Ben Lauer returning to start, with Jonah Pirsig moving to right tackle. Josh Campion, who missed the season opener because of a concussion, is not listed as a starter. He’s a backup at both tackle spots. Jon Christenson (knee surgery) is listed as the backup left guard, behind Joe Bjorklund. Those two are expected to split time. True freshman Tyler Moore tweeted that he’ll be making his first college start. He’s listed on the depth chart as the backup center, behind Brian Bobek.
The injury report lists six players, and not all are would-be starters, so there are more names to come. The injury report says four players are out: punt returner Craig James (broken leg), wide receiver Jeff Jones (unspecified injury), tight end Lincoln Plsek (back) and tight end Duke Anyanwu (knee). Safety Damarius Travis (hamstring) and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) are listed as questionable.
“We’ll find a way to win,” Kill said during his weekly radio show. “[Purdue] can only play 11 [players], too.”
Leidner will start
Kill also told KFAN that Mitch Leidner is still the starting quarterback, with freshman Demry Croft as the backup.
Kill had declined to answer that question since replacing Leidner with Croft in the fourth quarter of last week’s 27-0 loss at Northwestern.
“If everybody wants to know, [Leidner’s] going to be our starting quarterback,” Kill said. “Right now, he can read the checks, he can make the reads. We need to protect him. We need to be able to run the ball better. We need to do a lot of things as a whole team.”
Kill wouldn’t say how he plans to use Croft in the future.
“Demry’s got to continue to be ready,” Kill said. “They’ve both gotten the same amount of work [in practice], and [Croft] needs to get better because we’re going to need him.”
Defense can’t rest
While the Gophers search high and low for ways to jump-start their offense, their defense is less of a project.
The Gophers rank 36th nationally in scoring defense (20.2 points per game), but that includes points scored against their turnover-prone offense. Kent State and Northwestern both returned fumbles for touchdowns. Another fumble set up a 6-yard touchdown drive by Kent State, and a long punt return set up a 5-yard touchdown drive for Northwestern.
The Gophers rank 26th in total defense (312.4 yards per game) and 14th in average passing yards allowed (154.6). They are just 61st, however, on opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (36.4).
“We’ve still got to play better on third down,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “I think we can get off the field a little bit more if we play better on third down. That will be our emphasis this week.”
The Gophers have played three consecutive games without creating a turnover. Northwestern fumbled three times last week, recovering all three.
“Sometimes that’s just how the ball rolls,” defensive end Theiren Cockran said. “You’ve got to stay patient, and I’m not worried about it. We still have a long season. We have seven more games and we’ll get it rolling.”