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Minnesota's Decker refuses to be denied

9/19/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are more famous wide receivers in college football than Minnesota's Eric Decker. There are faster ones and flashier ones.

But after Saturday's game against Cal, it'd be hard to believe there's a tougher one.

Only a handful of receivers could take the hit Decker absorbed from Cal safety Sean Cattouse in the second quarter and hold onto the ball for a touchdown. Even fewer would return to the game.

Decker didn't miss a single play.

"I was just happy that I didn't kill him," Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber said.

Decker's head snapped back to the turf and he lay there for several moments before walking to the sideline. The senior received four or five stitches in his chin but returned for Minnesota's next series and threw a pass on the first play.

"He's as tough a kid as there is," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. "Obviously again today, he showed up really big."

His 26-yard touchdown catch despite the Cattouse hit tied Ron Johnson's team record for career receptions. Decker broke the record with a 12-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter and became the first Gophers player to eclipse 200 career catches.

"We needed a spark and we got some more consistent drives together, a couple big plays," Decker said. "Then we finally punched it in to the end zone."

Decker's play has been both a blessing and a curse for the Gophers, who still have yet to establish another offensive option.

The senior entered Saturday having accounted for 43.1 percent of Minnesota's offensive production. Against Cal he had a hand in all three Gophers touchdowns, catching two and passing for one, and represented 46.7 percent of the team's offensive output.

Despite its "Pound the Rock" motto and a pro-style offense, Minnesota has yet to return to its rushing roots in games. The Gophers finished with just 37 rush yards Saturday, a 1.8 yards-per-carry average. They entered Saturday ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 91st nationally in rushing (110 yards per game).

"Especially when we get into the Big Ten, we're going to have to run the ball," Weber said.

For now, the Decker show will have to suffice.

Decker might not get much recognition nationally, but he won a few backers in Berkeley with his play Saturday.

"Decker made an unbelievably great catch and a play," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said of Decker's first score. "He's a great player. Somebody said afterward he had a whole bunch of stitches in. That tells you what type of guy he is.

"He came right back and kept playing."