Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck believes he is building something. It's just not built yet.
This season he continued laying the foundation by adding 58 freshman to his roster. That's nearly 52 percent of his players, a higher percentage than any other college team.
And you will see some of those freshman when Minnesota and Ohio State collide at The Shoe.
Zack Annexstad quickly went from walk-on to leader of the Golden Gophers offense. The results have been what you would expect. Occasional brilliance, but also he's thrown five interceptions to go with his eight touchdowns.
Oh, and those eight touchdowns? They've all gone to just two players. Five have been caught by Tyler Johnson and the other three by Rashod Bateman.
Of course, Annexstad's youth is only a partial explanation. He's also been under a great deal of pressure, so much so, that he has -80 rushing yards on the season.
Hoping to shore up an offensive line that has given up 13 sacks, Fleck has named 6'9", 400-pound freshman Daniel Faalele his starting right tackle, despite the fact that Faalele only started playing football his junior year of high school. (IMG, where he was Annexstad's teammate.)
The running game has been hampered a bit by an injury to Rodney Smith, and the fact that Shannon Brooks has yet to return from an ACL injury he suffered in the spring.
The defense has had to deal with a major injury as well. Antoine Winfield, Jr. is out for the season, and considering he could make plays like this, it's been a huge loss:
Antoine Winfield Jr. with the game winning interception😳 pic.twitter.com/pG6H0IQa55— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) September 9, 2018
Without him in the lineup, Minnesota has given up at least 45 points in each of their first two Big Ten games, losses to Maryland and Iowa.
Junior Carter Coughlin is tied for the Big Ten lead with five sacks, but he is the only player on the Golden Gophers roster to have brought down an opposing quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. Unbelievably, the Gophers both have the conference leader in sacks, and yet are ranked 90th nationally overall in that category.
Fleck, like his team, is young. He's 37 years old, and it was just 2006 when he was working as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. From there, he went to Northern Illinois, before joining thenRutgers coach Greg Schiano as the Scarlet Knights wide receivers coach.
“He’s the greatest influence on my entire life,” Fleck said of Schiano. “He was a father when he needed to be a father to me. He was a head coach when I needed a head coach to teach me how to be a head coach. A disciplinarian, most organized, most detailed, most accountable coach I’ve ever met.”
- Minnesota's last victory against Ohio State was a 29-17 win in Columbus. It happened 18 years ago this weekend (October 14, 2000).
- Annexstad’s cousin Sam Dekker plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Fleck has been showing his team clips from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, hoping the American's victory over the Russians at the Olympics inspires his team as they seek an upset.
- Golden Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter is 2-2 on field goal attempts of 50-yards or more.
- Minnesota has only committed 20 penalties this season, ranking them sixth in the nation. Ohio State's 51 ranks them 121st.