The Gophers on Tuesday released their depth chart for Saturday’s game at No. 3 Ohio State, and there is one big change — literally.
Daniel Faalele, all 6-9 and 400 pounds of him, will start at right offensive tackle, coach P.J. Fleck confirmed. The true freshman from Melbourne, Australia, by way of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., will make his first start. In last week’s 48-31 loss to Iowa, Faalele replaced third-year sophomore Sam Schlueter, who struggled against the Hawkeyes’ 6-7, 271-pound defensive end Anthony Nelson. Nelson sacked Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad three times in the first half.
“When you start putting Daniel in the game, Nelson doesn’t look so big,” Fleck said Tuesday on KFXN-FM.
And the move to Faalele could be for the rest of the season, with Fleck saying on KFXN that his redshirt is off. Saturday’s game will be the third this season for Faalele, and if he plays in more than four, he will use a year of eligibility. Faalele played in the opener against New Mexico State but didn’t see action again until last week and still was a candidate to be redshirted. Fleck said he wanted to make sure Faalele was mentally and emotionally ready to play.
“Daniel is a guy that can handle a lot,” Fleck said during his weekly news conference. “I think back in March, April, I probably wouldn’t have said he was ready yet. And as he’s continued to go, every day [offensive line coach] Brian Callahan has got him more and more ready where you feel like, at this point, he can play.”
Fleck liked how Faalele played against Iowa, which had one sack in the second half after having four in the first.
“He did pretty well when he was in there,” the coach said. “He’s got to get a lot better, but he’s fully committed to making himself a really good football player.”
Believe in miracles?
The Gophers haven’t won at Ohio State since 2000 and are 2-38 in their past 40 meetings against the Buckeyes. They are 29½-point underdogs for Saturday’s game against a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, and Fleck is dipping into his motivational bag of tricks. He showed his team video clips from the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s legendary upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Games, and has plans for more clips of upsets.
“The majority of it is coming tomorrow,” he said. The message: He wants his team to see what upsets look like.
“That’s why you play a game,” he said. “Doesn’t promise you anything because you watch a bunch of people do it … but it gives you a perspective.”
• Fleck said running back Shannon Brooks, who suffered a torn ACL during a workout just before spring practice, is getting closer to returning, but the coach is waiting for the senior to be 100 percent cleared by the medical staff. Fleck reiterated that Brooks will play only four games this season to preserve a year of eligibility.
• There was one change in the depth chart on defense. Cornerback Kiondre Thomas, who missed the Maryland game because of a disciplinary suspension, is back as starter after being listed as a reserve behind Coney Durr against Iowa.