Throughout the season, the questions have come:
“Where’s Blake Cashman?”
“Why isn’t Cashman playing more?”
“When are they going to use Blake Cashman?”
Last Saturday night at Michigan, Gophers football fans got their answer. Amid the rubble of the 33-10 loss to the Wolverines, a shiny gem stood out in the form of the junior linebacker. Cashman made six tackles and notched his first sack of the season, flashing the form that made him the Gophers’ sack leader in 2016 and forecast a prominent role for him going forward.
Cashman, who has spent the season as a third-down specialist and special teams ace, saw extensive action against Michigan after Jonathan Celestin, the starting outside linebacker ahead of him, left the game because of an elbow injury. Cashman’s biggest play was a third-down sack of Wolverines quarterback Brandon Peters early in the third quarter.
“I was just ready to get in there when my name was called,” the speedy, 6-2, 235-pounder from Eden Prairie said after the game. “It’s a team effort, and I just wish we could’ve executed better.”
Cashman gives Gophers defensive coordinator Robb Smith options, and he’ll likely see more action in the final three games, beginning Saturday morning when the Gophers (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) play Nebraska (4-5, 3-3) at TCF Bank Stadium. Celestin, a senior, is the team’s second-leading tackler and has played effectively through that injury, so Smith will get creative to get Cashman more playing time.
“He’s becoming more than just a third-down guy for us,” Smith said. “[Cashman] can do some things on first and second down. He has the uncanny ability to track the football and accelerate and go make plays. We need that to continue, and he’ll certainly have a niche there. ... Fresh guys are better football players. We’re sorting through that right now.”
Added coach P.J. Fleck: “He’ll continue to play. There is a pretty good player in front of him right now, Jon Celestin, but I think we’ll be able to find ways to get them both on the field at different times and at the same time.”
Cashman has shown he can thrive when called to fill in for a starter. Last year with Cody Poock sidelined because of injury, Cashman earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors with 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in a victory over Northwestern. He earned defensive MVP honors in the 17-12 Holiday Bowl victory over high-scoring Washington State after collecting 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack.
Fleck sees Cashman as an example of what he wants in every player.
“If we had 125 Blake Cashmans, that’s the goal,” he said. “I’m saying the heart, the spirit, the fire. If you could take Blake Cashman and in three years down the road sit there and say, ‘That’s what the team would look like at every position,’ that’s my vision of the football team.”
For now, Cashman just wants to make any impact he can, beginning Saturday.
“We’ve been talking about it all week. We want to finish the season strong,” he said. “We have three big games. Northwestern’s playing really well, and obviously Wisconsin.
“We want to finish the season strong, get to a bowl game and send these seniors out right.”