P.J. Fleck’s debut season as head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers has come to a close with Saturday’s 31-0 loss to Wisconsin. Before we turn our attention to basketball, let’s close the book on a lackluster season of Gopher football.
What is your Tweet-length (now 280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ first season under P.J. Fleck?
gopherguy05: Slightly disappointing. Part failure to execute and part lack of talent playing due to injuries both combine to lead us short of where we hoped.
IowaGopher: It’s over.
Ustreet: Change is hard. It’s harder when the offense loses lots of players to injuries.
dvits14: More or less what we should have all expected considering the issues facing this team coming into the season.
How are you feeling about the future of the program?
gopherguy05: It’s a work in progress. Yes, it was not pretty at times, but if you are jumping off the boat now, I'm not going to hand you an oar when you come swimming back.
IowaGopher: Gloomier than I expected leading up to this season. I didn’t anticipate such a significant step back, and the last three losses of the season were demoralizing, to say the least. It’s unclear to me how long it will take for the obvious talent deficiencies to be corrected, and I can’t help but feel like this program is never going to turn the corner. But I’m a delusional college football fan, so I’ll be back next season, and by the time the Gophers take the field against New Mexico State, I’ll have convinced myself that those better days are finally here.
Ustreet: Fine. Recruiting looks good and facilities are coming in. The Gophers will be a much improved team next year.
dvits14: Never been more confident in the direction of the program. For starters, they will actually have receivers who can run routes and catch the ball next season.
What aspect of this season — be it a game, a player, a coach, whatever — has you most optimistic about next year?
gopherguy05: I’m hoping the recruiting. Find a quarterback who can throw to our new receivers and we are back in business. Need to have at least the threat of an offense.
IowaGopher: P.J. Fleck. I’m choosing to trust the process. I always felt better after a loss this season when I was able to listen to his postgame press conference. He takes responsibility for the product on the field and is honest and up front about the challenges ahead. And the dude is a competitor. He won’t lose for long.
Ustreet: There are six receivers who come in next year that will be a major improvement over the current set.
dvits14: P.J. Fleck. Unlike his predecessor, who was literally asleep at his desk, Fleck won’t stop until he has this roster shaped the way he wants it to be shaped.
How would you grade offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and defensive coordinator Robb Smith after one season?
gopherguy05: C for each. Both showed some innovation at times but both also led units that were lost at times. Give them the talent needed to run their systems and we can reevaluate.
IowaGopher: With the caveat that I understand Ciarrocca was operating for the most of the season without the necessary tools in his toolbox, I have to go with a D+. This was one of the worst Gopher offenses I have ever seen. Talent was an issue, but I also felt like Ciarrocca wasn’t always effective at playing to the strengths of his players. I’m more bullish with Smith. I’ll give him a C+, because I felt the defense played well for the most part, but the run defense was atrocious on multiple occasions.
Ustreet: C for Ciarrocca and B- for Smith. Coaching can only make up so much for lack of talent.
dvits14: Incomplete for both. Go back and watch the Western Michigan offense last season. I’m guessing they were running maybe 10 to 15 percent of the playbook this season. They just didn’t have the players to run the offense the way Fleck and Ciarrocca want to run it. Defensively, Smith was put into a bad spot with how bad the offense was. The defense was bound to wear down in games since the offense couldn’t move the ball. Then add in the inherited issues in the defensive backfield and Smith couldn’t run the defense the way he would like either.
Give me your MVPs on offense and defense.
gopherguy05: I'll go with Rodney Smith on offense and Carter Coughlin on defense just to give a difference of opinion.
IowaGopher: Rodney Smith on offense. He came up 23 rushing yards short of 1,000, which is remarkable when you consider the amount of stacked boxes he ran into all season long thanks to a non-existent passing game. Thomas Barber was a huge surprise for me on defense. The sophomore linebacker led the team in tackles by a wide margin and finished in the Top 20 nationally in total tackles per game.
Ustreet: Tyler Johnson because he was the only reason that the team was two-dimensional on offense for part of the season. Thomas Barber for the reason that IowaGopher mentions.
dvits14: Rodney Smith, offensively, since he never quit and never openly complained about the situation. Defensively, it has to be Thomas Barber. He’s going to be an absolute monster the next two years.
We’ll end on a sentimental note. Which graduating senior will you miss the most?
gopherguy05: Steven Richardson. Though he was not as disruptive this season due to constant double teams, we will definitely note the lack of his presence next year.
IowaGopher: I could go with either Jonathan Celestin or Duke McGhee, but I’ll miss Nate Wozniak and will be forever disappointed that he never caught a touchdown pass in his Gopher career. He’ll always be the 6’10’’ red zone threat that never was.
Ustreet: Jon Celestin
dvits14: Jon Celestin.