MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers may be without one of their top offensive weapons for Saturday’s rivalry game against Wisconsin.
Wide receiver Derrick Engel suffered a knee injury in practice on Sunday and his status for Minnesota’s game Saturday remains uncertain. Head coach Jerry Kill didn’t have a diagnosis Tuesday but did confirm that Engel was “banged up” in practice.
“We’ll know more as the process goes with his doctor,” Kill said. “At this point in time, he’ll get an MRI and we’ll know more about it as we go. There’s speculation one way or the other, but we’ll see.”
Kill wouldn’t say whether Engel might have torn the ACL in his knee, adding that it could have been one of several different injuries.
“Until I know 100-percent sure, I can’t comment,” Kill said. “When I do know, I will.”
Engel has been far and away the Gophers’ best wide receiver this season, leading the team in catches (25), receiving yards (401) and touchdowns (5). The senior from Chaska, Minn., has been a big reason why Minnesota’s passing game has improved since last year.
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson said Engel’s injury happened during 1-on-1 drills in Sunday’s practice. If Engel can’t play against Wisconsin, Nelson will be without his top target.
“Derrick’s a great receiver. There’s none like him,” Nelson said. “At the same time, I feel like we’ve got a great stable of receivers right now that can step in and do their jobs. It will be a loss if we do lose him; I’m not really sure what’s going on. I’m confident in our other receivers.”
After Engel, the production from the Gophers’ wide receivers this year takes a big drop. Freshman Drew Wolitarsky and redshirt junior Isaac Fruechte both have eight catches, the most for a receiver after Engel’s 25. Meanwhile, tight end Maxx Williams has 17 catches for 299 yards and four touchdowns, and running back David Cobb has caught 14 passes for 148 yards.
Freshman Donovahn Jones has also entered the mix at wide receiver and now has six catches, with five of them coming in the last two games.
“Donovahn and Drew, I feel very confident in what they’re doing,” Kill said. “This time of year, with injuries and so forth, you’ve got to stay healthy. That’s part of it. You’ve got to be lucky.”
Even with Engel’s production, Minnesota ranks dead last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (149.4) but fourth in rushing offense (218.5). Against a Wisconsin team that also pounds the ball on the ground, the Gophers may not need to go to the air too often on Saturday.
Still, there’s no doubt that Minnesota’s passing game will suffer if Engel isn’t on the field.
“You’re a little worried when you see a receiver go down,” Nelson said. “We’re not particularly deep there, and Derrick’s a great player. You wish the best for him. Hopefully he’ll be able to play. We’re not sure yet. But once again, I’m confident in our receivers.”