The Gophers offensive line could look different against Purdue.
While the same five players have started each of the three nonconference games, coach P.J. Fleck has hinted at the potential for personnel changes as the team strives for more consistency.
“There will be four out of five that are really doing a good job, and then one guy that doesn’t stay on a block. That is the person that makes the play,” Fleck said. “… The biggest thing for us is we have to be able to finish. We are good at the point of attack at times, and we just need to be able to run our feet and finish our blocks and be relentless.”
Fleck added he could rotate players in and out to help set up the run game for success. The Gophers rank near the bottom of the FBS in yards per carry at just 2.6. The O-line also has allowed 11 sacks in the first three games, losing 81 yards.
Fleck said he really likes his line of left tackle Sam Schleuter, left guard Blaise Andries, center Conner Olson, right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr. and right tackle Daniel Faalele, none shorter than 6-5 or lighter than 305 pounds. John Michael Schmitz (6-4, 315 pounds) and Nate Umlor (6-5, 300 pounds) are other lineman who have seen brief playing time.
“Just because I like them doesn’t mean that they’re the best offensive line in America,” Fleck said, adding there isn’t a senior on the line right now. “… It’s still really, really a young group up front and that needs to get better … We’re going to look at every option to be able to make it the best five we possibly can in that particular play.”
Fleck wasn’t ready to take a 3-0 start and move on to Purdue. Instead, for the first time with the Gophers, he forced his team to pause.
“During the bye week, it’s always uncomfortable; everybody wants to get on to the next week. I don’t want to go on to the next week yet,” Fleck said. “Let’s give our players some time off to get away, and us coaches, let’s get together and let’s scout each other, let’s game plan each other.”
The coaching staff took a whole day for the offense to evaluate the defense and vice versa, just as for a regular opponent. The coaches went through each down, wrote up everything they knew about each player, analyzed schematics, formations, tendencies.
Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca navigated the potentially awkward moment of critiquing each other. Special teams coordinator Rob Wenger was “talking to himself,” which is awkward in its own way.
But Fleck said listening to those different perspectives was ultimately beneficial.
Quarterback Zack Annexstad injured his right foot at the start of training camp and needed surgery. Now about two months removed from that, Fleck said the sophomore’s recovery is moving along well.
Annexstad, who started last season before injuries sidelined him, upgraded from a three-wheel scooter to a four-wheeler last week since he kept having flat tires. But he’s now off it and in a walking boot.
“Was throwing after practice,” Fleck said. “… He was throwing on his scooter, too. I mean, the guy just can’t wait to just throw the football.”