The Gophers were without their best defensive player Saturday against Maryland.
Senior linebacker Kamal Martin left last week’s Rutgers game in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury. While coach P.J. Fleck said his leading tackler was a “game-time decision,” Martin ended up not dressing for the game.
That gives him an extra week with the bye coming up to be ready to face Penn State on Nov. 9, the Gophers’ first ranked and similarly undefeated opponent.
In his stead, the Gophers used Mariano Sori-Marin at Will linebacker. He also filled in for Martin when he missed the season opener on a suspension and the final nonconference game with a foot injury. Sori-Marin made a team-high eight tackles, including a shared one for a loss. Fellow young linebacker Braelen Oliver also made some highlight plays, including sacking and tackling Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome who eventually left the game with an injury.
“We had some young guys step up,” cornerback Chris Williamson said. “We didn’t tell them to go be Kamal Martin. We just told them to be the best you that you can be. We didn’t change the scheme or anything. We kept it pretty simple, and they were able to go out there and execute.”
Pigrome started the game despite starter Josh Jackson warming up. Jackson missed last week’s game with an injury and did come into the game for a few early snaps, but Pigrome carried most of the load.
Until his second-quarter injury. Then Maryland went to Tyler DeSue.
The Gophers are used to facing non-starters at that position. They haven’t faced an established No. 1 quarterback for a whole game, with the first two games being new starters and the rest being backups because of injury.
Pigrome finished completing six of nine passes with two interceptions and a sack. DeSue was four of 12 with a touchdown and a sack.
Maryland did have top running back Anthony McFarland Jr. back from injury. He had three carries for 20 yards.
O’Brien at home
Gophers holder Casey O’Brien made his collegiate debut at Rutgers a week ago, holding for three extra points in the fourth quarter. But Fleck had wanted to put him in against Nebraska two weeks ago so the four-time cancer survivor could play in front of his home state crowd.
And O’Brien, a St. Paul native, held for three extra points at the end of the Maryland game to have that moment.
With the big leads the past two games, the Gophers have been able to give some playing time to their young players. Against Rutgers, freshman quarterback Cole Kramer and running back Treyson Potts made their debuts. Against Maryland, fellow freshman quarterback Jacob Clark checked into the game for the first time. He tossed a 39-yard pass to Harry Van Dyne and also handed off for Potts’ first 2-yard score.
Freshman Brock Walker also came in to kick an extra point late in the game, as did transfer Michael Tarbutt. The second-team defense ended up allowing Maryland’s sole touchdown, a 59-yard pass.
“It’s not just about the guys that are seniors,” Fleck said. “It’s about who their backups are for next year. We need plenty of playing experience. We played a lot of players [Saturday].”
Tight end Ko Kieft was back and starting after not playing last week at Rutgers with an injury. Fellow tight end Jake Paulson warmed up for the second straight game but again didn’t play with an injury.