Injuries and a suspension are starting to take a toll on the Gophers, and that was apparent in their 31-24 loss to Maryland in the Big Ten opener on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers entered the game without three starters — safety Duke McGhee, wide receiver Demetrius Douglas and center Jared Weyler.
Then in the first quarter, they lost safety Antoine Winfield Jr. to a left hamstring injury.
“It hurts us a lot,” coach P.J. Fleck said of Winfield’s absence. “He’s one of the best players in the conference. We’re thin at secondary as it is. That’s no mystery.” Fleck didn’t say how long Winfield would be out. The sophomore missed time during training camp after injuring that same hamstring.
McGhee did not appear in pregame warmups, and after the game Fleck revealed that the senior is suspended because of disciplinary reasons. “If you don’t do the right things, you’re not going to play,” the coach said. “… Hopefully, he’ll be back here soon. I’ll make that call as we continue to move forward.”
The Gophers secondary also was missing cornerback Zo Craighton, for the season because of a leg injury suffered vs. Middle Tennessee. The injuries prompted the coaching staff to play true freshman Ken Handy-Holly, ending his chance to redshirt this year.
The depth issues showed on offense, too.
Douglas, a true freshman, will be out for a “significant amount of time” because of injury, Fleck said, adding, “We’re going to have to made decisions on whether we bring people back or no, or hope for medical redshirts.”
That might apply to true freshman receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who did not dress Saturday and has not played after being injured during training camp.
Douglas entered the game with 11 receptions for 83 yards, both of which ranked second on the team. In his absence, redshirt freshman Phillip Howard caught a team-high four passes for 46 yards.
“As you go through a Big Ten season, you’re going to lose a lot of guys,’’ Fleck said. “We have freshmen starting all over the place, and now more are going to have to start.”
Weyler also missed the Sept. 16 game against Middle Tennessee. Conner Olson started in his place.
Top QB recruit visits
The Gophers’ biggest 2019 recruiting target, junior quarterback Hank Bachmeier of Murrieta Valley High School in Murietta, Calif., was among the visitors for Saturday’s game.
Bachmeier, a four-star recruit, is rated the fourth-best pro style quarterback by 247Sports.com. Fleck flew to California to visit Bachmeier last week. “P.J., two or three times a day, he’s FaceTiming, calling, texting,” Bachmeier told Rivals.com.
Bachmeier visited Colorado last week and has a visit to Boise State scheduled.
Tight ends get in the mix
Quarterback Conor Rhoda spread the ball around in his 13 completions, with nine going to wide receivers and four to tight ends. Brandon Lingen had two catches for 31 yards and 7-yard TD in the third quarter, and fellow tight end Nate Wozniak caught two passes for 29 yards.
• Saturday’s attendance of 43,511 lifted the home average to 43,487 through three games.
• The Gophers lost their Big Ten opener for the third consecutive season.