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Gophers' Fleck offers 'do the right things' line on McGhee's absence

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck celebrates with wide receiver Tyler Johnson (6) during the first half against the Maryland on Saturday, Sept. 30, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—When asked about the absence of starting safety Duke McGhee on Saturday, Sept. 30, Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck repeated a statement he's used when some other players have been gone this season.

"Again, if you don't do the right things, you are not going to play," Fleck said after Minnesota's 31-24 loss to Maryland at TCF Bank Stadium. "...I'm not going to sacrifice a win on the field with depth, just so our guys say, 'Well, we don't have to do the right things, and I can still play.' That's not true."

Before McGhee, Fleck has offered slight variations of that phrase when describing the status of backup quarterback Demry Croft and demoted receiver Rashad Still. Fleck said last week that Croft remains "suspended indefinitely," while Still played but didn't catch Saturday. Still missed the game against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 16, while Croft has missed two and counting.

McGhee, a senior, has been credited with getting the secondary lined up in the first three games this season. He has eight tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

"Hopefully he will be back here soon, and I will make that call as we continue to move forward," Fleck said.

In the first quarter, fellow starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr. exited with a left hamstring injury, according to KFAN. He was limited in camp after tweaking that muscle. He returned to play in each non conference game this season and was third on the team with 18 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and a blocked field goal.

"He's one of the best players in the conference," Fleck said. "We are thin at secondary as it is. That is no mystery — really thin — for a lot of reasons. But again, that's my challenge and our challenge as a football team. I know guys are going to step in there."

The Gophers had Adekunle Ayinde and Jacob Huff, who won Big Ten defensive player of the week on Sept. 18, as the other safeties. Ayinde started at safety in the season opener against Buffalo over McGhee, who was suspended for a targeting call in the Holiday Bowl last December.

Minnesota pulled a redshirt off freshman safety Ken Handy-Holly on Saturday, while sophomore cornerback Coney Durr returned after a knee injury in the Holiday Bowl last December.

Douglas out

The Gophers' second-leading wide receiver Demetrius Douglas will be out for a significant amount of time, Fleck said.

"We are going to have to make some decisions on whether we bring people back or not or hope for medical redshirts," Fleck said.

Through three games, Douglas, a true freshman, had 11 receptions for 83 yards, which was behind only sophomore Tyler Johnson.

Without Douglas, Phillip Howard had a career highs of four catches for 46 yards, and Eric Carter had two receptions for 54 yards, including a stunning 34-yard diving catch to set up the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Carter said his big catch ranked No. 2 on his list behind his first career touchdown against Nebraska in 2015.

"When I seen it up in the air, I felt like it was going to be a little far (and) I would have to run up under it, so I picked up a little speed and just reached out and made the catch," Carter said.


Gophers center Jared Weyler (foot) missed a second consecutive game, with Connor Olson moving from guard to center in his stead. ... The Gophers uniform combo of white helmets, maroon jerseys and white pants were a nod to the 1967 Gophers team that won the Big Ten title. About 40 members from that team were honored during the game. ... Big Ten Network's behind-the-scenes show "The Journey" is in Dinkytown for a piece on the Gophers. ... Fleck wore green and brown camouflage shoes for the "Salute to Service" theme at Saturday's game.