Days like Saturday are why Rashod Bateman returned to Minnesota
To an outsider, it was an easy question to ask after Minnesota started 0-2.
Rashod Bateman, perhaps one of the NFL’s next great wide receivers, came back for this?
But for the first time this fall, we got a real reminder of just how dominant the Gophers’ “Agent Zero” can be in the Golden Gophers’ 41-14 victory at Illinois on Saturday. And it also provided a window into why Bateman chose to opt back in after COVID-19 caused him to reconsider his junior season of football in the Twin Cities.
“It definitely feels good,” Bateman said, immediately turning his gaze toward a Friday night matchup against rival Iowa. “But in a couple of hours, you know it’s gonna be over with.”
Ten catches. 139 yards. A 5-yard touchdown pass on a fade route from Tanner Morgan that Bateman actually took his eyes off momentarily while it was in midair to make sure he had room in the end zone.
“I thought he played like Rashad plays,” coach P.J. Fleck said.
That’s exactly what a lot of folks around Minnesota have wanted to see after a roller-coaster of an offseason.
It started in the summer, when a more severe case of COVID-19 caused Bateman aches, chills and night sweats and a loss of taste and smell.
That was enough to cause him to reconsider his priorities and opt out of his junior year to prepare for the NFL Draft. He even signed with an agent, and this was all before the Big Ten decided to cancel fall football.
When the league reversed course 5 weeks later, Bateman petitioned to have his eligibility reinstated. His reasoning? Minnesota has become his second home. And he wanted one more go-round with his teammates before turning pro.
The waiver was ultimately granted by the NCAA and B1G, but a blowout loss to Michigan and an overtime defeat at Maryland weren’t exactly what the Tifton, Ga. native had in mind.
He was quiet by his standards against the Wolverines, catching 5 passes for 62 yards. He had 9 for 101 a week later, but Minnesota’s offense sputtered in the 4th quarter as the Terrapins came back from 17 down.
No. 0 looked a lot more at home Saturday in Champaign. And his effectiveness was infectious.
“I just think that we clean up all our details on both sides of the ball, you know, all phases, we were able to finish the game and the defense was able to get us stops so we could put the ball in our hands,” Bateman said. “Everything clicked for us.”
He’ll be continually relied on if Minnesota is to continue its goal of weekly improvement following a nightmarish start.
“He’s a huge playmaker,” Morgan said. “We had opportunities to get him the ball, and our coaches did a great job of being able to scheme stuff up to get him open and get him touches in his hands.”