HOUSTON – Gophers offensive lineman Caleb Bak, who missed the last three regular-season games because of a concussion, again will be sidelined for Friday’s Texas Bowl against Syracuse. The right guard was a key contributor to the team’s successful ground attack, which ranked 34th in the nation.
“The big thing is that we’ve had guys step in,” coach Jerry Kill said after Monday’s practice. “Offensive line is the hardest place to do it because of the communication and things like that.”
The Gophers averaged a little more than 200 rushing yards per game, but the loss of Bak was felt in losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State in their last two games. The Badgers held the Gophers to 102 yards on the ground, while the Big Ten champion Spartans limited them to 125.
Redshirt sophomore Foster Bush is expected to get the start Friday.
“Everybody has injuries and so forth,” Kill said, “and your depth at this time of year is certainly critical.”
There’s no reason to expect the Gophers to suddenly become pass-happy. The ground game, led by 1,100-yard rusher David Cobb, is the foundation of the offense. Still, the Gophers will have their hands full against an Orange defense that ranks 26th in the nation in run defense, giving up 138.3 yards per games.
Having played at Reliant Stadium a year ago as well, could the Gophers have an advantage over Syracuse?
“I don’t know, but we feel that it certainly helps us,” Kill said. “You just don’t know when you’re playing one game, one shot. … I’m always been kind of a routine guy, so it doesn’t hurt any, that’s for sure.”
This marks the fourth time the Gophers have played a bowl game in the state of Texas. Including last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Gophers are 1-3 in Texas-based bowl games, with the other loss to Oregon in the 1999 Sun Bowl in El Paso. The Gophers defeated Oregon 31-30 in the 2003 Sun Bowl.
• After spending most of Sunday focusing on special teams, the Gophers put equal attention on all aspects of the game during Monday’s practice. “It was good to get the young guys. … We’ve got a lot of young players that got some reps also,” Kill said. “The way we feel you’ve got to do it is to keep building up, but there are some things we need to clean up.”
• The Gophers spent Monday evening facing Syracuse in defense of their Rodeo Bowl championship, which they earned last season by defeating Texas Tech. The Rodeo Bowl is held at a ranch just outside of Houston and pits the opposing schools in a variety of activities.