After giving up four sacks to Maryland in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 22, the Gophers knew that protecting quarterback Zack Annexstad would be key to their chances of beating Iowa on Saturday at TFC Bank Stadium.
It didn’t work out.
Iowa sacked Annexstad five times in a 48-31 victory. Doing most of the damage was defensive end Anthony Nelson, who had three first-half sacks, including two on back-to-back plays in the second quarter.
“Getting three sacks is the accumulation of everyone doing their job,’’ Nelson said. “We had great coverage in the back, and everybody filled their lanes.’’
After halftime, the Gophers replaced starting right tackle Sam Schlueter with 6-9, 400-pound true freshman Daniel Faalele. Coach P.J. Fleck said he made the move to get Faalele some playing time.
“He’s going to have to play. He’s one of the strongest people in the Big Ten,’’ Fleck said. “Two weeks ago, he wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready. He was close. … I thought that would give us a strength advantage.’’
Faalele has played in two games, and Fleck said he hasn’t decided yet if Faalele will play in more than two more, thus using a year of eligibility.
“Don’t sacrifice what you really want down the road for what you want right now,’’ Fleck said. “But you’ve got to look in those seniors’ eyes as well.’’
With Antoine Winfield Jr. lost for the season because a foot injury suffered Sept. 22 at Maryland, the Gophers made several secondary changes.
Senior Antonio Shenault, not true freshman Jordan Howden, started at safety opposite Jacob Huff. The cornerbacks were true freshman Terell Smith and Florida transfer Chris Williamson. Kiondre Thomas, who missed the Maryland game because of a disciplinary suspension, returned as a backup cornerback and played extensively in the second half.
Huff was the most active player in the Gophers secondary, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles and an interception.
The Gophers forced two turnovers — Huff’s second-quarter interception and Thomas Barber’s fumble recovery after Carter Coughlin’s strip sack of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. That set the Gophers up at the Iowa 6- and 3-yard lines, and they cashed them in for TDs.
“We have to find ways to generate takeaways — synthetically, authentically, however,’’ Fleck said.
• Linebacker Blake Cashman left the game in the second quarter after injuring his right knee but returned later in the quarter. He finished with seven tackles.
• Defensive tackle Gary Moore hobbled off the field because of an ankle injury in the first quarter but later returned to the game. He finished with three tackles.
• Ron Johnson, who played for Minnesota from 1998-2001, gave the captains breakfast speech Saturday morning. Johnson’s 31 career touchdown receptions are the most in school history.