After 23 players tested positive for COVID-19 in a 49-case outbreak, the Gophers were predictably shorthanded Saturday at Nebraska.
While the team managed a 24-17 victory on the road — just the second win there since 1960 — the Gophers did so without 33 players from positive COVID-19 tests and injuries, coach P.J. Fleck said.
The offensive line and tight end groups appeared the hardest hit. The line — already without right tackle Daniel Faalele and right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., who haven't played all season — was without center John Michael Schmitz and left guard Axel Ruschmeyer. Nathan Boe, usually the first rotated in on the offensive line, took Schmitz's place, and true freshman Aireonte Ersery started at right tackle. Sam Schlueter at left tackle, Blaise Andries at left guard and Conner Olson at right guard completed the retooled lineup.
Tight ends Ko Kieft, Jake Paulson and Bryce Witham all missed the game, leaving just Brevyn Spann-Ford and true freshman Austin Henderson dressed for the game.
On defense, linebacker Cody Lindenberg and defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway were absent. Redshirt freshman James Gordon IV replaced Lindenberg, as senior Keonte Schad did for Dew-Treadway on the line.
While the Gophers missed nearly three dozen players, a few did return.
Benjamin St-Juste, who hasn't played since Nov. 7 after testing positive for COVID-19, started at cornerback. Schad started as well after not playing since Oct. 30. Defensive end Boye Mafe sat out the most recent game Nov. 20.
Per the Big Ten's policy, players who test positive stay on the sideline for 21 days to account for isolation, cardiac testing and general recovery.
"Being especially in a situation when neither of us or any of us were actually hurt physically, it's kind of a situation where you feel like you can play, but for the medical reasons and the way that the Big Ten is actually taking care of us, we can't play," Mafe said. "It was hard, call a spade a spade."
But Mafe said a few of those newly reinstated defensive players gathered in the locker room ahead of the Nebraska game and told each other, "Nothing's going to stop us. It's time for us to play."
Running back Treyson Potts also re-debuted, having not played since Nov. 7 against Illinois when he endured a lower-leg injury. Spann-Ford also watched from the sidelines of the Nov. 20 Purdue game with a lower-leg injury but scored a touchdown at Nebraska.
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim appeared to play through a shoulder injury, something he might have picked up at the end of that Purdue game. Fleck said Ibrahim was on limited carries and also had to change pads during the game to find ones that protected him best against live tackles.
Anders Gelecinskyj made his debut at kicker, scoring a 31-yard field goal and making three extra points. The walk-on redshirt senior is a Bloomington native who played 11 games for Minnesota State Mankato in 2016 before transferring to Minnesota and joining the football team in 2018.