Update: Receiver Derrick Engel has been ruled out of today’s game.
After injuring his right ankle in a win against Purdue two weeks ago, receiver A.J. Barker will not play Saturday against the Fighting Illini in yet another must-win game for the Gophers.
The junior from DeLaSalle High School caught 5 passes for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win against Purdue – but those numbers were all accumulated in the first half. With Barker out in the second half, the Gopher offense was largely dormant, striking on only a field goal in the second half.
In fact, the first half of the Purdue game was the only half the Gopher offensive has looked good in conference play. They have had trouble mustering up touchdowns in each of their four conference games failing to score more than 13 points in each contest.
Fellow receivers Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts will need to fill the offensive void that Barker against Illinois, which will be no easy feat.
Barker accumulated 30 receptions for 577 yards and 7 touchdowns in eight games this season, while Engel and Crawford-Tufts have combined for less than 350 yards receiving between the two.
The addition of former starting quarterback MarQueis Gray as a receiver will help freshman quarterback Philip Nelson find his groove after losing his favorite receiver, but tight end John Rabe can also carry some of the load.
Against an Illinois defense that has allowed on average more than 215 yards passing per game and has had difficulty grabbing interceptions, Nelson and company will find success against the Illini secondary with or without Barker.