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Buckeyes earn Gophers’ respect as season opener approaches

Minnesota Gophers head coach PJ Fleck answers a question during a news conference at the team’s football media day at the program’s indoor practice facility in Minneapolis on Tuesday, August 3, 2021. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Given the status of their opponent, the Gophers football coaches have been answering questions about Ohio State since the Big Ten Media Days in late July. Now, with the season opener at Huntington Bank Stadium coming Thursday, the questions are timely.

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck on Friday first pointed to Buckeyes coach Ryan Day’s record and where their season ended last year. Day is 23-2 in two seasons and last year ended in a loss to Alabama in the national championship game.

“They are a team that reloads; they don’t rebuild,” Fleck said. “Very talented guys coming in and playing. At every position they had depth and experience. They are a really good football team; I think everybody knows that.”

The Gophers are 14-point underdogs to Ohio State, which is again the favorite to win the Big Ten. The Buckeyes’ deepest position is wide receiver, with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njagba and Marvin Harrison Jr.

“I said they are the greatest I’ve seen, that I’ve had to evaluate …” Fleck said of that group of receivers. “They are. They are all in sync.”

The Gophers sought a transfer cornerback in the NCAA transfer portal last offseason, but didn’t bring one in to replace Benjamin St-Juste, who was a third-round draft pick by Washington. The U has seen Terell Smith improve and he could start opposite mainstay Coney Durr on Thursday night.

The Gophers are 7-45 all time against Ohio State, including 13 straight home losses since 1981. The U has lost 11 straight in the series since 2000.

TRICKETT TO KICK

Matthew Trickett has won the Gophers’ place-kicking job, Fleck announced Friday. The Kent State transfer was put on scholarship at the U, making him the favorite to win the spot over Brock Walker, Will Mobley and Dragan Kesich.

“I’ve let the other kickers know that, and what I loved about that was everybody responded very well,” Fleck said. “They saw it, they understood it and they knew the competition was open and fair and it was there for the taking. But they all support each other.”

AUTMAN-BELL UPDATE

The Gophers’ top receiver, Chris Autman-Bell, continues to improve after injuring his leg during an Aug. 12 practice.

“He’s still day to day,” Fleck said. “He ran (Friday) and we’ll see as we continue to go forward. Our No. 1 thought, what we do going forward, is Chris’ health, period, as we keep going forward. Whatever our trainers and doctors say he’s going to do, we are going to do. We are going to keep him safe and keep him progressing because he’s progressing incredibly quickly. That is a credit to him and to our trainers.”

BRIEFLY

The Gophers have hired Kramer Cook as director of recruiting strategy. He was previously director of recruiting at Syracuse. … Former U punter/kicker Ryan Santoso was traded from the Giants to Panthers on Thursday. He appeared in three games for the Titans in 2019. … The U is back to opening its season on a Thursday, which the Gophers did from 2012-19 before COVID interrupted the stretch last year.


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