Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
There are five basic (pass-ineligible) positions on the offensive line, and the Gophers have ... well ... let's see ... yep, five healthy offensive linemen. So the math works out perfectly.
You know, unless someone gets hurt. But what are the odds of that?
Yes, the Gophers have zero backup lineman for Saturday's game with Illinois, a situation that coach Jeff Horton admits makes him a little uncomfortable. "We can't get any thinner, we really can't," Horton said. "We'll just try to make it work."
He has no choice, not with senior guard Matt Carufel and senior tackle Dom Alford hobbled by knee injuries, and redshirt freshman Ed Olson doubtful after an injury at Michigan State. Junior Ryan Wynn was the only backup lineman available last Saturday, but he will step in to Olson's left tackle position this week.
That's left Horton to prepare contingency plans for Saturday; if you're headed to Champaign for the game, bring a helmet, just in case.
Tight end Curtis Hughes would be the first option, since he has a smattering of experience, and even filled in on the defensive line last week. Alford may be asked to suit up, just in case of emergency, though Horton said that wouldn't be determined until Saturday. And backup nose tackle Eric Jacques played offensive line in high school and during spring drills, so he could be called upon if all other options are unavailable.
One thing Horton ruled out once again is asking freshmen to forego a season of eligibility by giving up their redshirts this late in the year. The Gophers have five future offensive lineman sitting out the year, and "it wouldn't be fair to the kids" to ask that kind of sacrifice.
For Wynn, it's a welcome bit of activity after sitting out all of 2009 with a back injury. He's played only once this season, though he enjoyed developing a versatility by backing up all five positions last week.
"I practice two plays at each -- left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, right tackle, then go to tight end in our muscle package," said the junior, a Maple Grove grad. "There's some challenge there. Each position feels a little different, but the steps are the same, the calls are the same. I had to know all the calls when I played center, so that's made it easier."
-- Other injury news: Defensive lineman Austin Hahn had arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in his meniscus, so he's out this week, but it remains possible he could return for the Iowa game. Defensive back Ryan Collado sat out of some practice drills after suffering a concussion at Michigan State, but he's likely to play Saturday. Jon Hoese's hamstring improved through the week and the senior fullback is likely to get more playing time at Illinois.
-- Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray took the great majority of practice time at quarterback this week, as usual, so freshman Moses Alipate will not play. Horton had joked that he might consider using Alipate after Gray's success last week. Gray will take snaps at Illinois, and Horton hinted his role could be expanded beyond just two series.
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