Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad learning painful lessons
MINNEAPOLIS — Some of the lessons Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad has learned this season have come with painful reminders.
When the true freshman failed to check Minnesota's pass protection before a play in the 26-3 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 15, he was hit and injured his left ankle. When he dropped back to pass in 48-31 loss to Iowa on Saturday but didn't get escape the pocket, he was sacked and re-injured that ankle.
"He can help protect himself, and he learned that," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "... It's amazing how many things he's learning every game. That's just priceless. You can't learn that stuff by sitting on the bench."
Despite the recurring ankle injury, Annexstad is expected to make his sixth straight start when the Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) face No. 3 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in Columbus.
"It's going to bother him here and there," Fleck said of Annexstad's balky ankle. "It's not going to just go away."
Annextstad has a 52-percent completion percentage, which ranks 14th in the conference, and he is averaging 184 passing yards per game . He has five interceptions in two Big Ten games, after none in three nonconference games, but Fleck steered the focus Tuesday to his eight touchdowns, which rank sixth in the league.
"I think he's a lot more decisive in his decision-making; whether it's the right decision or wrong decision, he's more decisive," Fleck said. "... You want your quarterback to be decisive because now all of a sudden he knows what throw he can make and what throw he can't make. That's what you want him to find out, but he's making some tremendous throws, some great reads.
"But again, on the other end of that ... we want to do everything we can to swing it towards the more positive all the time and the more consistent."
Faalele to start
After the Gophers started the same five offensive linemen in the first five games, right tackle Daniel Faalele has moved ahead of incumbent Sam Schlueter on the depth chart.
At 6-foot-8 and 400 pounds, size and strength weren't the issue Faalele's only action before Saturday came as a backup in the blowout win over New Mexico State in the season opener.
"It's the mental and emotional part," Fleck said.
Out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Faalele enrolled early at the U in January, but Fleck said after spring practices Faalele wasn't ready to really contribute.
"Every day (offensive line coach) Brian Callahan has gotten him more ready and more ready and more ready and to the point where you feel like, at some point, he can play," Fleck said.
Schlueter struggled in the first half against Iowa, shouldering some of the blame on all four Iowa sacks. After sitting out three previous games, Faalele replaced Schuleter in the second half.
"Sam Schlueter is not done playing football for us," Fleck said. "This is just to give us a little change-up."
Over the first five games this year, the Gophers' allowed sacks have increased each week — New Mexico State (0), Fresno State (1), Miami (3), Maryland (4) and Iowa (5).
Eight Gophers have played in all five games this season, which means they've removed their redshirt under this season's new NCAA rule. They are: Annexstad, Rashod Bateman, Terell Smith, Bryce Williams, Jordan Howden, Benny Sapp III, Thomas Rush and Max Janes.
New starter Faalele will be another true freshman to use his redshirt, if he stays healthy to play in at least three more games.
Linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin has played in four games, meaning the next game he takes a snap, his redshirt will be used. Six other players have played in one or two games for the Gophers in 2018.
The Gophers ended up using two redshirts last season and are expected to get one back with sophomore defensive tackle Nate Umlor planning to redshirt this season.