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Minnesota suspensions leave Gophers especially vulnerable to WSU’s Air Raid

Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. faces an indefinite suspension from the football team. (Paul Battaglia / Associated Press)
Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. faces an indefinite suspension from the football team. (Paul Battaglia / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The indefinite suspensions of 10 Minnesota football players on Tuesday leave the Golden Gophers particularly vulnerable against Washington State’s pass-heavy offense, given that the most prominent players involved are defensive backs.

The teams will meet in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. Nearly a dozen Golden Gophers will not suit up after a new ruling in a case involving accusations of sexual assault prompted the university to suspend the players.

Those players include a starting safety (Antoine Winfield) and three of the team’s top four cornerbacks (Antonio Shenault, KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford). The Cougars ranked No. 2 in the country in total pass attempts (613) and passing yards per game (370.8) and were tied for sixth in passing touchdowns (39).

Prior to the suspensions, the pass defense was a strength for the Golden Gophers, who ranked No. 16 in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.3).

The most productive offensive player suspended is third-string running back Kobe McCrary, who has 242 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Also suspended are reserve players Dior Johnson, also a defensive back; backup quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams; running back Carlton Djam and defensive end Tameron Johnson.

A student told authorities in September that she was sexually assaulted, but a criminal probe resulted in no charges. The accusations documented in police reports and court testimony eventually led to a university committee’s decision on Tuesday to suspend the 10 players.

On Wednesday, university president Eric Kaler emailed boosters saying the players will not participate in the Holiday Bowl, saying that coach Tracy Claeys made the decision in consultation with athletic director Mark Coyle.

The alleged assault occurred shortly after the team’s season-opening win over Oregon State. Several of the players are represented by attorney Lee Hutton, who told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he plans to appeal the suspensions.

The university had pledged to not share more about the allegations and suspensions, citing privacy laws relating to student educational data.

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