Gophers try to bounce back vs. San Jose State
Sep. 19, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota is back at home this weekend after a humbling loss.
The game Saturday against San Jose State is the last chance to get on track before Big Ten play begins.
"We're hungry. We're ready to get back out there. We've got some things that we've got to clean up," wide receiver K.J. Maye said. "We've got some things that we need to prove so people will know that we're still good."
The Gophers (2-1) were beaten badly at TCU. Already-hurting quarterback Mitch Leidner, who was playing with a brace on his left knee, suffered a turf toe injury on his left foot and was replaced by Chris Streveler down the stretch.
"It was a good wake-up call. We needed that. I'd rather have that early in the season rather than later," Maye said.
Leidner was listed as questionable to play the Spartans. If he's not deemed ready, Streveler would start.
"I just kind of prepare the same way, like I'm going to play, like I'm going to start," Streveler said this week. "If I play, I'm going to be ready. If I don't play, I'll still be ready and I'll be there to help Mitch."
The Gophers beat San Jose State 43-24 at home last year, Leidner's first career start. For the Spartans (1-1), this will be their second straight road trip to an opponent from one of the five major conferences. They lost 59-13 at Auburn two weeks ago.
Even with many of the conference teams appearing vulnerable this month during a September not to remember for its proud members, Big Ten play is always a significant step up from most of the nonconference opponents the Gophers schedule.
"It's a huge game," Maye said. "We want to be crisp and clean, no turnovers. We want to go into the Big Ten with confidence, of course."
Here are some key nuggets to know about the game:
With quarterback David Fales, a sixth-round NFL draft pick by Chicago this year, San Jose State finished 6-6 last season and 5-3 in the Mountain West. The year before that, the Spartans went 11-2 with a victory over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl. Two of their eight losses over the span have come against Pac-12 power Stanford.
The Spartans were picked in the preseason media poll to finish fifth in the six-team West, the weaker of the two divisions. They're 2-6 all-time against Big Ten teams, beating Minnesota in 1992 and Illinois in 2002.
San Jose State wide receivers coach Greg Lewis is a notable name for the Minnesota crowd. He finished his NFL career with the Vikings, hauling in a last-second touchdown pass from Brett Favre to win a memorable 2009 game against San Francisco.
PASSING PROBLEMS: The Gophers have a run-first offense, but after three games they're last in the Big Ten with 130.7 passing yards per game. That's 117th out of 125 in the FBS. Leidner has completed just 26 of 54 attempts, with four interceptions and two touchdowns. Coach Jerry Kill said the struggles have a two-part cause, protection by the offensive line and inconsistency by Leidner in getting the ball quickly out of his hand, but he blamed himself for the lack of passing production.
"That's my job as a head coach. I've got to do a better job," Kill said.
DANGEROUS MAN: Tyler Ervin scored San Jose State's only touchdown in the Auburn game, on a 75-yard pass. The school record-holder with three career kickoff returns for scores, Ervin was switched from running back to wide receiver this season. With four career special teams touchdowns, Ervin has tied the all-time mark for the program. He missed last year with a severely sprained ankle
"It's always good when a veteran returns to play," coach Ron Caragher said. "He can really give us a boost."
BANGED UP: In addition to Leidner, several other key players were listed as questionable to play Saturday by the Gophers: Maye, tight end Maxx Williams and left guard Zac Epping (ankle). Injuries for Maye and Williams weren't specified. Defensive end Alex Keith (knee) will miss his third straight game.
PICKOFFS PICKING UP: The Gophers have five interceptions in three games this season, tied for the Big Ten lead, including two by cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun.