When Minnesota Gopher coach PJ Fleck ran onto the field at Iowa City—supposedly to check on his player and was subsequently penalized, he all but sealed the Gophers fate. It was a sight rarely seen in college football. His histrionics won’t likely endear him to many Minnesota fans who prefer everything vanilla. Fleck already had waaaay too much flavor for them.
The Gopher’s lost a game they should have won in Iowa City on Saturday, raising suspicions that the team and their coach aren’t ready to handle the big-time spotlight. It was the game that good coaches and teams win.
The Gophers were clearly the best team, but they didn’t coach or play like it. The coaches were out-coached and the players were surprisingly out-played.
It seems the Gopher staff carried over their playing “not to lose” strategy from the last quarter of their game against Penn State that almost cost that game. And that strategy did not make sense against a team that has struggled on offense all year, averaging 16 points going in. But the Gophers employed a soft zone that is usually applied to teams with vaunted passing attacks that needs to be slowed down.
Making it worse, the Gophers didn’t really cover anyone in the first-half and they tackled poorly, something they seemed to overcome after poor secondary play in the first half of the season kept teams that were not on par with them closer than they should have been.
There were several plays that turned the game. The Gophers failed to tackle the Iowa quarterback for a loss when they had him but missed him on a third-down play in Gopher territory in the first drive. A stop there would have changed the entire complexion of the game.
But the Hawkeyes went on to score and they gained more and more confidence with each play since it was apparent the Gophers were in some kind of stand-and-watch defense.
Good coaches manage the clock and their timeouts. The Gophers did neither well. Poor clock management and a little home-cooking was the reason the team only had four seconds to work with and the ball on the Hawkeye two-yard line before the end of the first half.
And on their scoring drive, behind by 10 late in the fourth quarter, the Gophers refused to run a hurry-up offense taking at least 40 or more seconds between plays. Ironically, had they left at least four minutes on the clock, it would have taken the idea of an onside kick off the table. As it stands, the Gophers onside kicked with over three minutes left in the game.
It is easy to second guess, but the Iowa offense had run out of steam and the Gopher defense was holding them. It would have made more sense to kick and depend on the defense to get the ball back.
Minneapolis North star Tyler Johnson had a great game marred by a dropped fourth-down catch that would have given the Gophers a first and goal inside the five. But to his credit, he took responsibility for his drop and admitted it was all on him—unlike Fleck.
Johnson’s drop did not cost the Gophers the game because an unsportsmanlike penalty call would have given the Gophers a first-down inside the 10. But because Fleck was penalized for running onto the field, the officials wrongfully declared them off-setting penalties.
The real goat (not to be confused with G.O.A.T.) of the game was Fleck who refused to apologize for what was obviously a boneheaded play. Incredibly, he has tried to justify his behavior by saying he was looking out for Tyler’s best interest. But Tyler was up walking around when Fleck made his mad dash.
In reality, an injured player probably prefers to see a doctor, not the coach.
How quickly fortunes change, as Fleck goes from hero to goat in a week’s time. No matter what he says, nothing will justify his running on to the field.