The Gophers' line has been shaken up by injuries this year, and the inexperienced group hasn't stayed the same through all the injuries and roster changes.
Nevertheless, the offensive line has allowed just eight sacks through eight games.
“I’m proud of how they’re gelling,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “Offensive line play is all about how you play together, not just how good you are as an individual.”
With 21 starts, the most experienced lineman of the group is fifth year senior Garrison Wright. Wright came to the team last year out of junior college with two years of eligibility. He started every game last year and he has started every game this year.
“What I’ve seen out of [Wright] is a guy that really loves to play football,” said offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. “What he’s shown me over the course of the season is he loves to play football, he loves the University of Minnesota and he loves his teammates.”
Starting center Jared Weyler suffered an injury in the second game of the season against Oregon State, and he didn’t come back into play until the Michigan State game four games later.
His absence shook up the line, moving Connor Olson from right guard to center to fill Weyler’s spot. Most of the rest of the line had to move positions to make up for Weyler's absence, and the only lineman who has started every game at the same position is left tackle Donnell Greene.
Good news for the Gophers linemen is that the injury bug has left them alone the past two weeks, and the starting five were the same for the past two games. The only change from how the line looked at the start of the season to the current starting front five is at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Sam Schlueter is filling in for Nick Connelly, who left the team last week following a concussion.
“Hearing that [Connelly] had that injury that he kind of had to step away from the game was hard, but I still stay in contact with him to make sure that he's okay,” Weyler said. “[Connelly's] still a part of our unit but more guys have had to step up because of that injury.”
The next in line for both starting tackles is now freshman Blaise Andries. If either of those tackles get dinged up, Andries will probably be the one to step in.
“[Andries] is going to be a really good player. He’s got a lot of potential,” Weyler said. “And I think he’s become more comfortable with the speed of the game, because it’s a big transition from high school to college.”
This Gophers offensive line will block against a good Wolverines defense this week. They lead the Big Ten in total defense, rank first in the Big Ten in first downs allowed and they are tied for most sacks in the Big Ten with 27 on the season.
The Michigan defensive line is led by the two senior defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Gary was selected as a preseason second team All-American defensive end and Winovich has a team-high seven sacks on the season with 47 total tackles.
“We have to win on first and second down,” Fleck said. “Their third down defense is exceptional, and they’re going to do things on third down that we haven’t seen, and we haven’t prepared for. That’s why they’re so good.”