Jerry Kill won’t call it a “must-win” for his young Gophers.
But with one win separating Minnesota from a bowl game in Kill’s second season, only three games remain. The Gopher’s best shot is to beat the Fighting Illini, who are 0-5 in the Big Ten this year.
“It’s a critical game for us,” Kill said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “No question about that. But I think the next three games are critical.”
After traveling to Champaign, Ill. this Saturday, Minnesota will go to Nebraska and then host Michigan State for the final game of the season.
If Kill’s Gophers fall on the road this week, it’s unlikely they will bounce back to win on the road at Nebraska or at home against the Spartans.
But no one was expecting Minnesota to go to a bowl game this year and Kill is on the verge of making that a reality.
“I’d like to see us get over that hump a little bit,” Kill said about his team’s progress in the second year under his staff.
Minnesota’s top receiving threat A.J. Barker (577 receiving yards and seven touchdowns) is out for the second consecutive week after Kill said “it seemed to be more of an issue than we thought” on his injured ankle.
Kill named freshman Isaac Fruechte and veteran Devin Crawford-Tufts as receivers he’s looking to step up in Barker’s absence.
Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson will get his fourth straight start after his 13-for-29, 142 yards and one touchdown performance against Michigan’s top ranked pass defense last week. Nelson hasn’t thrown an interception since his first career start at Wisconsin three weeks ago.
Kill said he hopes starting left tackle Ed Olson Jr. is ready to come back after missing the previous three games.
It seems to be feast or famine for Minnesota’s offense in the Big Ten and the (un)lucky number is 13.
The Gophers are 1-4 in the conference this year. In each of the four losses, Minnesota put up only 13 points.
Minnesota eclipsed that mark only once in Big Ten play when they piled on 44 points to beat Purdue.
If they can get to the elusive 14-point mark in Illinois – look out for a rout.