PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Carter Coughlin was on one knee, head down and praying in the middle of all his standing teammates. His back was to his best friend — his brother, as he calls him — Kamal Martin, who was laying on the field, grabbing his right knee.
Martin buckled just before contact on a third-quarter play and needed help limping off the field in the Gophers’ 42-7 victory at Rutgers on Saturday. Martin eventually went to the locker room via cart, souring the victory a bit.
“He’s the heart of the defense,” safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said. “Plays with passion, energy, and he’s just a great leader. So it always hurts when a guy like that goes down.”
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Martin suffered a lower leg injury but was standing in the locker room after the game, which he took as a good sign. Fleck added that if the injury is serious, usually the trainers can tell right away. But for Martin, they are waiting to do more tests to know the severity.
Despite not playing in two games because of a suspension and a foot injury, Martin led the team with 41 tackles entering the game. He produced highlights, such as one game where he forced two fumbles and another when he made two interceptions. He had five tackles before leaving Saturday.
Tight end turnover
Ko Kieft did not travel to Rutgers. The Gophers tight end left last week’s victory over Nebraska injured and hadn’t practiced as of Tuesday.
Fellow tight end Jake Paulson also left the previous game early, but he was warming up and had practiced, albeit in a limited sense, as of Tuesday. But Paulson also did not play Saturday.
Brevyn Spann-Ford and Bryce Witham instead took over and didn’t slack on that the recent blocking success of the tight ends. Spann-Ford, for example, delivered a nice block for Rodney Smith’s 20-yard run in the first quarter, and he also caught a 13-yard pass.
Right tackle Daniel Faalele started after missing the Nebraska game because of an injury. But the Gophers displayed several O-line formations, such as rotating John Michael Schmitz in at center and changing the guards.
To start the second half, the line that played against Nebraska with Faalele out returned, meaning Schmitz was at center and Blaise Andries was at right tackle instead of left guard.
Threads for a cause
The Gophers sported a new look during part of their pregame warmups. The white shirts read “Roll Model,” with the first O actually a symbol of a person in a wheelchair. Eric LeGrand’s No. 52 was underneath the phrase.
The Gophers supported the former Rutgers defensive tackle’s efforts to raise money for spinal cord research. LeGrand became paralyzed in a 2010 game when making a tackle. The Gophers have many coaches who once coached at Rutgers, including Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who were on the Scarlet Knights staff when the injury occurred.
• Cornerback Phillip Howard, who switched from receiver late last season, made his first career interception, seizing the opportunity for more playing time with Terell Smith not traveling.
• Injured quarterback Zack Annexstad has his right foot out of a boot for the first time since an early training camp injury and surgery.
• Two freshmen, quarterback Cole Kramer and running back Treyson Potts, saw their first action.