Gophers' big tackle Lauer hard to miss

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2013 - 11:38 AM

But many college coaches missed on U tackle Ben Lauer after a knee injury in high school. They wish they had the 6-7, 308-pounder now.

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Redshirt freshman tackle Ben Lauer has played his way into the starting lineup, and the Gophers now rank third in the Big Ten is rushing offense at 282.2 yards per game.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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B en Lauer might be the newest and youngest member of the Gophers’ starting offensive line, but he’s hardly the smallest.

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said Lauer was about 6-5, 260 pounds when the Gophers began recruiting him at Wayzata High School. After redshirting last year, Lauer has grown to 6-7 and 308 pounds, playing into his role as the starting left tackle.

Kill is convinced Lauer would have been recruited by schools all over the country had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury as a junior at Wayzata.

“That kid usually ends up at North Dakota State,” Kill said. “That’s why North Dakota State’s been winning is they’ve gotten those types of kids, and they recruited [Lauer]. We were fortunate enough to get him to our school.”

The Gophers offensive line has improved steadily this season, and with the addition of Lauer, the unit appears to be hitting its stride just in time to play a physical Iowa team Saturday.

Minnesota (4-0) ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing offense with 282.2 yards per game, including a 353-yard output in last week’s 43-24 victory over San Jose State.

“The offensive line definitely has a little bit of swagger,” quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “There was one play that really stuck out to me in the San Jose State game, when [left guard] Zac Epping pulled around and blocked three guys at one time, and pushed them all back into the end zone. It was unbelievable.”

That came on David Cobb’s second- quarter touchdown, one of 16 rushing scores for the Gophers in nonconference play.

With a passing offense that ranks 118th out of 123 FBS teams, the Gophers have re-established their identity as a team happy to run, even when other teams are expecting it.

“I think we started to establish that in the Texas Tech game last year, and I think it’s just been building on that,” Lauer said. “Sometimes, when we run to the sidelines after we run a pass play, a lot of the linemen get mad. We want to keep running the ball because that’s what we know we can do.”

Epping is a 6-2, 321-pound redshirt junior. Center Jon Christenson is a 6-4, 306-pound redshirt sophomore. Right guard Caleb Bak is a 6-3, 302-pound redshirt junior. And right tackle Josh Campion is a 6-5, 326-pound redshirt sophomore.

“Epping’s got a little bit of a dirt bag in him,” Leidner said, making that sound like a term of endearment. “Campion’s a tough guy. Jon’s a tough guy. They’re all really physical and good players.”

Iowa (3-1) presents a much tougher challenge, though. The Hawkeyes have held each of their past three opponents — Missouri State, Iowa State and Western Michigan — to fewer than 75 yards rushing.

But after studying the Gophers on film, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sounds convinced this is a tougher matchup than last year, when the Hawkeyes dominated Minnesota up front in a 31-13 victory at Kinnick Stadium.

“They’re big, and they’re physical up front,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got a lot of big guys, and I’m including their tight ends. Their fullbacks are excellent blockers. They really have three outstanding tailbacks, and they’ve got two quarterbacks that are playing really well.”

Lauer was a big Gophers fan growing up, and he said his family always made a point of getting together for the Iowa game.

“Every year it was huge,” he said.

Saturday is another big one. And the Gophers are glad Lauer will be a part of it.

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