Minnesota’s inexperienced receiving corps has been devoid of playmakers this season.
After the first four games, there’s not a single player on the roster with more than 100 receiving yards.
But after Saturday’s 43-24 win over San Jose State, it looks like that could change this weekend against Iowa.
Sophomore wide receiver KJ Maye helped spark the Gophers’ offense against SJSU in a multi-faceted role, both running the ball and catching passes.
“If you can get [a receiver] that can run the ball and also be able to go vertical, it’s an advantage for you,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “It’s important for him to continue his progress.”
Maye was the Gophers’ leading receiver against SJSU, tallying two receptions for 39 yards. He also had two carries for 19 yards, adding another dimension to an already-strong run
A majority of the Gophers’ success running the ball this season has been predicated on power rather than speed. That change of pace in the running game was supposed to come from true freshman running back Berkley Edwards.
But that changed after Edwards sprained his ankle just before the start of the season. And with the way the other running backs on the roster have played so far, Edwards may not see the field this year.
“He may be a candidate that we redshirt, according to how healthy we stay at running back,” Kill said.
In turn, that change-of-pace role in the running game might fall on the Maye’s shoulders moving forward.
Stretching the field
While redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams has impressed early this season and has stretched the field with multiple catches of 20 or more yards, he didn’t have a catch Saturday.
Maye had a 37-yard catch in the second quarter — one of the few times Minnesota attempted to stretch the field.
Kill said the Gophers’ ability to execute on downfield throws in limited attempts kept SJSU from loading up the box to stop the run. SJSU elected to keep both of its safeties back in coverage for the majority of the game to counter what Maye brought to the table, Kill said.
Still, there were times when the Spartans weren’t able to handle Maye when he got to the second level.
“He had the opportunity because of what the defense gave us,” Kill said of the 37-yard pass play. “We got him matched up on a safety, and he took advantage of it on a vertical throw.”
Waiting for Jones
Kill said he’s waiting for things to click for Donovahn Jones before the true freshman wide receiver gets substantial playing time.
Jones switched over from quarterback to receiver at the start of the season and has yet to find comfort catching passes instead of throwing them.
“Donovahn’s got a tremendous amount of talent … and he’s still learning,” Kill said. “You never want to put a player out there before he’s … ready to play.”
Still, Jones’ presence isn’t an immediate necessity, with Maye stepping up last week and with Williams’ ability to make big plays at tight end.
The Gophers’ offense is still focused on the run, but as SJSU safeties can attest, Maye and company have the ability to help keep defensive backs honest.
“We’ve been efficient when we’ve thrown it here lately,” Kill said. “We’re progressing as an offensive unit.”