Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has a dilemma. But as far as problems go, it’s a good one to have.
The offensive line, which struggled early in the season, is coming off its two strongest games. In a 40-17 win against Illinois, it helped produce 332 rushing yards and allowed just one sack. And in Saturday’s 34-7 victory against Nebraska, the Gophers totaled 322 rushing yards and didn’t endure a single sack.
The lines, though, were slightly different each game. Against Illinois, the starters were right tackle Daniel Faalele, right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., center Conner Olson, left guard Blaise Andries and left tackle Sam Schlueter, with John Michael Schmitz rotating in at center and Olson shifting as the Gophers rotated their guards.
Faalele, though, left that game early with an apparent injury and did not suit up for Nebraska. So Andries shifted to right tackle, Olson to left guard; Schmitz started at center, and Dunlap and Schlueter stayed put.
With Faalele expected to return this week, whether Fleck sticks with his current formation or reverts to the original look is still unknown.
“I loved how the five played and ran for 320-some yards,” Fleck said. “And the week before with Daniel, we ran for 330 yards. So I think we have six guys that are very selfless, and they will trust the process of just getting better.”
Areas for improvement
While the Gophers are 6-0 for the first time since 2004 and ranked for the first time since 2014, Fleck still mentioned parts of the game that need work.
The Gophers failed to nab any of the multitude of fumbles the Cornhuskers coughed up on special teams.
“The ball is on the ground, and we don’t get on it,” Fleck said. “We had three opportunities for that, and we didn’t capitalize on that. We talk about the opportunity to have takeaways. We had the opportunity to have five takeaways, four takeaways and we didn’t have any. So we have to be around the ball more and be ready for it and assume people are going to turn it over.”
Fleck also pointed out a dropped touchdown pass from tight end Jake Paulson. The coach said both offense and defense were decent at third-down conversions, the offense at 62% and the defense holding Nebraska to 38%. But Nebraska didn’t convert any of its four fourth-down opportunities, which Fleck called critical.
The Gophers also weathered a fake punt situation, leaving their defense on the field in the punt safe scheme to stop that.
Martin earns honor
Senior linebacker Kamal Martin earned his first Big Ten award for Defensive Player of the Week. Martin had a career-high 15 tackles, six solo, against Nebraska. His 41 tackles lead the team.
The Gophers announced a 2:30 p.m. kickoff for the Maryland game on Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.