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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers stick with Croft at quarterback

Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Demry Croft (11) throws a pass over Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Owen Carney Jr. (99) in the second half at TCF Bank Stadium. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—With an increasingly strong running game and Gophers quarterback Demry Croft fresh off an interception against Illinois on Saturday, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck went right back to Croft on the next series in the fourth quarter.

After making the switch from Conor Rhoda, the starter in the season's first six games, Fleck not only stuck with Croft, he came out throwing "because I believe in my quarterbacks." Two offensive plays later, the redshirt sophomore in his first collegiate start threw another pick.

"This is like a lawn mower, you've got to continue to pull that cord over and over and over until that thing starts," Fleck said. "You have no other choice. We came back out and threw the ball."

After the second interception, the Gophers stuck to the run on 12 straight plays to take a 17-10 lead in an eventual 24-17 win over the Illini on homecoming.

Fleck said he would have to rewatch the game film to differentiate between Croft's interceptions. Croft, whose suspension cost him the chance to play in three games this season, finished 5-for-15 passing for 47 yards and added a first-quarter touchdown to the two picks. He added 11 rushes for 32 yards on Saturday.

INJURY UPDATE

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks headlined a group of four key absences for Saturday's game. Guard Vincent Calhoun, cornerback Antonio Shenault and tight end Brandon Lingen were also out.

All absences are injury-related and not for suspensions, a team spokesman said.

Late in the game, fellow running back Rodney Smith went into concussion protocol, according to KFXN-FM. He also exited the Middle Tennessee game after taking a big hit before halftime.

Cornerback Kiondre Thomas, who started the first five games this season, returned after an apparent leg injury in the 31-17 loss to Purdue on Oct. 7. He missed the loss to the Spartans and left with an ailment Saturday. True freshman cornerback Justus Harris had his redshirt removed.

Brooks suffered a leg injury against Michigan State. He had a wrap put on his leg, and he returned to play on the next drive and finished the game against the Spartans.

Without Lingen, Nate Wozniak and Colton Beebe had increased playing time. Without Calhoun, Sam Schlueter made his first collegiate start, with Conner Olson and Garrison Wright at guards.

BRIEFLY

With 103 yards, Smith moved into 10th place on the Gophers' all-time rushing list with 2,373 yards. He started the season in 19th place. ... Thomas Barber had a team-high 11 tackles after a career-high 16 against Michigan State. ... Carter Coughlin had a career-best two sacks and leads the team with 4 1/2 this season.

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