MINNEAPOLIS — It took more than 10 quarters of football, but the Gophers finally got KJ Maye involved in the passing offense last weekend against TCU.
After head coach Jerry Kill praised Maye for having one of the best fall camps of any player on the roster, the junior wide receiver was barely anywhere to be found in the box score in Minnesota’s wins against Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee. One rush for one yard. Zero catches.
As the Gophers look to get the passing game going, getting the football in Maye’s hands might be a good idea. In Minnesota’s loss to TCU, Maye had two catches that went for a team-high 65 yards as he reminded fans how dangerous he can be when he makes a catch in space.
"The first two games, it was tough not having a catch. But I knew you’ve got to stay patient," Maye said. "You can’t control those things. You just keep working on things you can do and what you can control, so that’s what I did."
It wasn’t until midway through the third quarter Saturday that Maye made his first catch of the season. With the Gophers looking at a 3rd-and-5 at their own 33-yard line and trailing 27-0, something needed to happen to keep the drive going. Maye lined up in the slot to the left of quarterback Mitch Leidner and ran an out route to the sideline.
Leidner snuck a throw just past a TCU defender into Maye’s hands a few yards past the first down marker. The speedy Maye turned the corner down the left sideline and sprinted for a 31-yard gain down to the Horned Frogs 36-yard line. Maye’s first grab of the season was the first time all game Minnesota moved the ball to inside TCU’s 40-yard line. Unfortunately for the Gophers, though, it was all for naught as Leidner threw an interception on the very next play.
Maye’s second catch of the day was even more impressive and did help set up Minnesota’s lone touchdown of the game. It also came on a third down play as the Gophers had a 3rd-and-3 from their own 37-yard line. The 5-foot-10 Maye went over the middle of the field on a crossing route and weaved his way through traffic as fellow receiver Donovahn Jones ran the other direction. Leidner found an open Maye right at the first down line, but Maye continued to run down the right sideline before TCU linebacker Paul Dawson tripped him up at the Horned Frogs’ 29-yard line.
All it took was two catches for Maye to have the most receiving yards in a game by any Gopher so far this year. After two weeks without a catch, Maye said he didn’t do anything different in the TCU game, but the end result was much greater.
"I was very excited to be able to get the ball back in my hands, of course," Maye said. "But in the end, I’m going to keep coming out and working hard every day. Nothing’s going to change about that."
As a sophomore last year, Maye had just seven catches for 70 yards while also rushing the ball twice for 19 yards. His impact was felt more as a freshman when he caught 11 passes, rushed 17 times and also returned kicks for Minnesota.
The Gophers’ passing game ranked dead last in the Big Ten last year as Minnesota lacked consistency at quarterback and lacked experience at receiver.
The quarterback position isn’t a whole lot more stable than it was a year ago, as Leidner has struggled and has also been banged up through three games. The receivers, however, do have more experience than they did a year ago. That includes Maye, whose role in Minnesota’s offense could increase as the season goes on.
"I thought receiverâwise, we played much harder than we have all year," Kill said. "We got behind people and we caught the ball. I think we did a good job there. I don’t think there is a question we’ve got to do a better job protecting, and we have to do a better job throwing and catching it or throwing it and getting on target. So that’s a combination of pressure and setting in there and those kind of things. But I thought receiverâwise, that was certainly a plus."