IOWA CITY – The Gophers have boasted all season about having six starting offensive linemen. They needed the spare Saturday at Iowa.
Starting right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr. did not travel for the 23-19 loss at Iowa. He was “banged up” against Penn State a week ago but finished the game, according to a team spokesman.
While the O-line excelled against Penn State — employing its usual center and guard rotations as well as a heavy six-man formation to great success — it faltered at Iowa. The running game amassed only 63 yards, and quarterback Tanner Morgan took six sacks.
“We would get in good position and then have a penalty or a lack of communication, lack of execution [that] turned into a sack and took us out of field-goal range,” running back Rodney Smith said. “It happened a couple times.”
Without Dunlap, the Gophers used Daniel Faalele at right tackle, Conner Olson at right guard, John Michael Schmitz at center, Blaise Andries at left guard and Sam Schlueter at left tackle.
Walker’s second start
Brock Walker made a surprise start at kicker a week ago. The redshirt freshman had kicked only one extra point late in the Maryland game, but with true freshman starter Michael Lantz injured, Walker took the job. He followed that up at Iowa when Lantz did not travel, still dealing with his leg tightness.
Against Penn State, Walker made a 26-yard field goal and was 4-for-4 on extra points. He missed his second career field-goal attempt at Iowa, a 50-yarder. He also banked in a 20-yarder off the upright. He sent the ball wide left on a critical extra-point attempt late in the game that could have put the Gophers within a field goal.
Fleck said on the long field goal, he considered going for it and punting, but he figured he’d give Walker a chance to test the boundaries of his range with the wind at his back.
“The only way you’re going to continue to gain knowledge is if you give your players an opportunity to prove themselves,” Fleck said. “He hasn’t played a lot. Show me what you can do. And if he gets put in that position again, now he has something to draw from.”
Senior linebacker Kamal Martin returned from injury at Iowa after missing the past two games because of an apparent knee injury against Rutgers on Oct. 19. Fellow senior linebacker Thomas Barber also started despite leaving the Penn State game late after a hard tackle.
Martin made three tackles, while Barber totaled six.
“He’s helping me make checks. He’s out there being Kamal,” Barber said of Martin’s value. “So it’s always good to have him back out there.”
Third-string safety Alex Strazzanti also limped off against Penn State. He traveled to Iowa but did not dress for the game, along with injured quarterback Zack Annexstad.
True freshman running back Cam Wiley and true freshman quarterback Cole Kramer checked another game off their four-game redshirt total. Wiley played in only his second game after coming in during an emergency injury situation against Georgia Southern. At Iowa, he was a kick returner and running back.
Kramer, playing in his third game this year, filled in for an injured Morgan on the Gophers’ last drive when trying to surmount a four-point deficit with only seconds left on the clock. He threw an incompletion and an interception.