Decker's loss really stings Gophers

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If Minnesota reclaims Paul Bunyan's Axe, it must do so without star wide receiver Eric Decker, who will miss the game with a high ankle sprain.

Judging by the way the Golden Gophers looked on offense against Michigan, this is really not good. Decker barely played in the game and was sorely missed, as Minnesota didn't score a touchdown for the first time this season. Minnesota is hardly a juggernaut to begin with, ranking seventh in the league in scoring offense (24.9 ppg), but the Gophers could always rely on the connection between quarterback Adam Weber and Decker, who leads the league with 74 receptions and ranks second with 892 receiving yards.

Several young wide receivers must step up Saturday at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), namely freshman Brandon Green and sophomore Ralph Spry. Green will be a top-end wideout very soon in this league, but Minnesota needs him to grow up fast. Ben Kuznia is solid on the other side, but Weber needs a second option.

More important, the Gophers need to generate some semblance of a running game. They rank last in the league in rushing offense (116.4 ypg), and Weber still remains the most viable option.

And finally, Minnesota needs to go back to its formula of forcing turnovers and playing solid red zone defense. The Gophers have allowed a league-low eight touchdowns in the red zone this season.

Decker's loss hurts, but if the Gophers can get production from multiple wideouts, generate a running game and force a few turnovers, they should be in this game.