Gophers coach P.J. Fleck hinted last week that there might be players who wouldn’t be available for Saturday’s season opener against Michigan because of COVID-19 or opting out this season but didn’t identify them.
Turns out, two starters on the offensive line — guard Curtis Dunlap Jr. and tackle Daniel Faalele — weren’t available to play. Dunlap was on the sideline at TCF Bank Stadium with a cast on his left foot and using a scooter during pregame warmups, but there was no sign of Faalele.
Their absence tested the team’s depth up front in a 49-24 loss. The 6-9, 400-pound Faalele started 11 games last year at right tackle and eight the year before. Dunlap, 6-5 and 345 pounds, briefly entered the NCAA transfer portal in the offseason but returned to the Gophers. He started 12 games last year and one in 2018.
The Gophers went with the starting offensive line of Sam Schlueter at left tackle, Axel Ruschmeyer at left guard, John Michael Schmitz at center, Conner Olson at right guard and Blaise Andries at right tackle.
Place-kicker Michael Lantz was replaced by Brock Walker. The team’s presumed starter at punter, Australian freshman Mark Crawford, was on the field but did not dress to play. Matthew Stephenson, a graduate transfer, replaced him but struggled.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kramer did not dress and had a brace on his left foot.
‘GameDay’ comes to town
ESPN’s “College GameDay’’ preview show visited Minnesota for its second consecutive home game, following last November’s regular-season finale against Wisconsin.
The event took on a social-distanced feel, with the set inside TCF Bank Stadium with no fans in attendance, a stark contrast to last year’s event on the Northrop Mall.
The guest picker Saturday was actor Vince Vaughn, who praised both Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Fleck before selecting the Gophers. “I’ll go with the sentiment and Minnesota,’’ he said.
“Not so fast!’’ Lee Corso exclaimed, pointing to the Gophers’ last home win against Michigan being 43 years ago and the fact the Wolverines have won 20 of the past 21 in Minnesota. “Guess who I’m picking?’’ he said, putting on an oversized Michigan helmet. “Yep, I’m going with the Blue.’’
It should be noted that Corso picked the Gophers last year against Wisconsin, and the Badgers prevailed 38-17.
Four-star DT commits to U
A busy day in Gophers football got off to a strong start for Fleck and his staff early Saturday morning when Jacob Schuster, a four-star defensive tackle from Olympia, Wash., announced via Twitter that he was committing to Minnesota.
Schuster, a 6-2, 300-pound senior at Tumwater High School, is the nation’s 20th-ranked defensive tackle in the recruiting class of 2021 as rated by 247Sports.com.
He had scholarship offers from 18 other FBS schools, and those expressing interest recently were California, Washington, Brigham Young, Arizona, Boise State and Stanford, along with Michigan of the Big Ten.
Schuster received an offer from the Gophers in June.
Schuster is the 17th player to commit to the Gophers’ 2021 recruiting class, which is ranked No. 24 nationally and sixth in the Big Ten by the 247Sports composite ratings of major national recruiting services
Family-friendly head count
Saturday’s attendance, announced before the game, was 589, limited to four tickets each per player or coach for use by family members.