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More on mind of Minnesota’s Claeys than football

Tracy Claeys has more than football on his mind these days. Off-field issues are following the Minnesota coach throughout the fall.

Five Golden Gopher players have a restraining order against them stemming from an alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2. KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford, Tamarion Johnson, Carlton Djam and Dior Johnson were barred from Saturday’s homecoming game against Rutgers because TCF Bank Stadium is one of two places the order covers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Tuesday.

The Pioneer Press story also stated that the judge in the case plans to set a Nov. 3 hearing, at which time the orders would need to be removed for the players to be in action for their next home game against Purdue on Nov. 5.

Claeys said in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story from Sunday that the players will be practicing this week and available to play in Saturday’s game at Illinois (11 a.m. CT, BTN).

Tuesday in Minneapolis, Claeys was asked by reporters if the players under order had come to him for support or with questions. His answer was terse.

“I don’t have anything to say about that, OK,” Claeys said.

The Gophers escaped an upset scare from Rutgers Saturday without the five players under order, and a sixth, Kiondre Thomas, who was removed on Monday, per the Pioneer Press. The Gophers won, 34-32.

If Claeys sticks with his idea of playing the group under order, the defense should get a boost. Hardin is a starting cornerback and Buford a key reserve in the secondary.

Minnesota sits at 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. A win against Illinois would keep the Gophers in the West Division race. Games against other contenders Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin remain.

The Illini (2-5, 1-3) have struggled with consistency under first-year head coach Lovie Smith. They won at Rutgers two weeks ago before being smashed, 41-8, at No. 2 Michigan on Saturday.

“Defensively, they are going to put a lot of guys in the box and make you throw the ball,” Claeys said “At the same time, we can’t get one-handed. We’re going to have to execute in the throwing game and still be able to run the football.

“Offensively, they do spread the field and they got two backs that are really good, a big physical receiver that played well. They played three different quarterbacks now because of injuries, so finding time in practice, they all do something a little bit different, so, it’s finding enough time in practice to make sure we’re prepared for all of them.”

After missing the Maryland game two weeks ago with a concussion, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner returned to spark the offense Saturday. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 156 yards and gained 39 more on the ground with a rushing touchdown.

The Gophers are favored to beat Illinois. Based on the body of work by both teams, they should be.

The key will be avoiding the off-field issues and focusing on football.

“When they show up in the building, it’s time to do football, they concentrate on football,” Claeys said. “They’ve done that. We’ve practiced well last week. Our kids prepared well. I think they way we came out of the gate shows they were ready to go. It all comes down to controlling things you can control, and it’s a tight group, and been very pleased with the way that when they show up here for the building to work on football, they’ve been extremely focused.”

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