MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s just another game for Jerry Kill and Minnesota this week.
When Minnesota hits the field against San Jose State on Saturday, there will be no special emotions expressed, no “welcome back, Jerry!” videos played on the TCF Bank Stadium big screen. The school, the coach and the players have taken pains all week long to emphasize that Kill’s epilepsy is not a concern and that the program can continue on the rebuilding path Kill set forth three years ago.
Last week against Western Illinois, Kill suffered a seizure at halftime and missed the entire second half of the 29-12 victory. While those outside the program wondered how much longer Kill could continue in the job after missing a portion of a game for the third time in three years, the Golden Gophers responded with a show of support and a shrug of their shoulders.
“It’s just the simple fact that we’ve gone through this situation before,” defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman said. “Obviously coach Kill wants us to keep on playing, to stay tough because he’s tough as well. So you put that aside and worry about the game and talk about it with the team after the game.”
Kill was back to work on Monday, insisting that it was nothing to worry about. The focus this week has been set solely on San Jose State (1-1) and the prospects at improving to 4-0 before the rugged Big Ten season starts.
Here are five things to watch for when the Spartans face the Gophers:
QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS: Gophers starter Philip Nelson left last week’s game in the first half with an injured hamstring and is listed as questionable for the game. All signs point to redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner getting the start. Leidner went 7 for 8 for 105 yards while filling in for Nelson against Western Illinois. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is deceptively agile as well, running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. He had 17 carries for 64 yards last week.
BLIND SIDE: Ben Lauer appears to have wrestled the starting left tackle job for the Gophers away from Marek Lenkiewicz. The two were listed side by side on the team’s depth chart, but coaches have become impressed by Lauer’s size, strength and tenacity. The 6-foot-6, 302-pound Lauer is a redshirt freshman from Wayzata who stepped in and played well last week.
FAST START: Gophers DE Theiren Cockran leads the Big Ten with three sacks and is tied for the league lead with five tackles for loss through three games. Cockran had two sacks last week against Western Illinois. His performance becomes more important with the Gophers struggling with injuries in the secondary. Defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun is out for the season with a knee injury and starting cornerback Derrick Wells has been playing with a sore shoulder.
PASS OR FALES: San Jose State’s David Fales is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Some scouts are projecting that with another strong season, Fales will be a first-round draft pick next spring. He set seven school records last season in leading the perennially struggling Spartans to 11 wins. He’s thrown for 441 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games this season and will be going against a Gophers secondary that is struggling with injuries.
GRIGSBY OUT: One problem for Fales will be the absence of top wide receiver Noel Grigsby. He entered the season with more career receptions than any active receiver in the country and had 10 for 106 yards and two scores in his first two games this season. But Grigsby injured his knee in practice on Wednesday, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, and did not make the trip to Minnesota. The senior captain could miss the rest of the season.
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