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Minnesota Football: P.J. Fleck fails as his critics continue to grow

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The Gophers’ head coach has done nothing to show fans he is capable of leading Minnesota to success

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

There will be no The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly post. I don’t think you need me to tell you which of those categories encompasses the entirety of the Nebraska game.

No Postgame Exit Survey either. I don’t think anyone on staff here at The Daily Gopher is eager to answer questions about a game they’d much rather forget altogether.

But something needs to be written. I’m just not sure what.

To be honest with you, I started and stopped several different iterations of this post.

The first version was a call for defensive coordinator Robb Smith to be relieved of duty.

Not since the Tim Brewster era have Gopher fans seen such staggering incompetence on defense. 383 rushing yards (with an 8.9 yards per carry average), 276 passing yards (completing more than 80 percent of their pass attempts), and 53 points to a winless Nebraska team?

Fleck has gambled at least his first two seasons so far at Minnesota on the questionable hiring of Smith — who had been quietly asked to start looking elsewhere after his defenses took a nosedive at Arkansas — and it has blown up in his face in spectacular fashion.

The second version took P.J. Fleck to task for failing to expand his vocabulary beyond the words “young” and “inexperienced,” which has become more of a crutch than a statement of fact.

There are enough upperclassmen on defense — including Carter Coughlin, Thomas Barber, Blake Cashman, Kamal Martin, Jacob Huff, O.J. Smith, Winston DeLattiboudere, and Antonio Shenault — to field at a least a serviceable unit. Instead, most of the upperclassmen have either regressed or are stuck in neutral, while the freshmen and sophomores look lost.

The third made the obvious and unfortunate comparison between Fleck and Jeff Brohm.

Saturday night, Brohm, in his second year as head coach at Purdue, led his squad to a shocking 49-20 upset of the previously undefeated No. 3-ranked Ohio State.

Earlier in the day, Fleck, in his second year as head coach at Minnesota, led his squad to a humiliating 53-28 defeat at the hands of the previously winless Nebraska Cornhuskers.

One coach inherited a program with a record of 9-39 over the previous four seasons. The other inherited a program with a record of 30-21 over the previous four seasons. And during that span, Purdue only once finished ahead of Minnesota in recruiting, according to 247 Sports.

Yet the Boilermakers are riding high while the Golden Gophers can't sink much lower.

The comparison is all too easy to make, and the contrast is stark.

But none of those three versions seemed to effectively capture what I was feeling after watching Nebraska utterly embarrass Minnesota — the all too familiar feelings of frustration and disappointment, from which only apathy seems to provide an escape.

There is one thing I want to make clear at this point: I don’t think P.J. Fleck should be fired. I think every head coach should be afforded at least four or five years with the keys to the castle before we start talking about changing the locks.

With that said, I’ve seen nothing from Fleck in his brief tenure up to this point that would suggest he has what it takes to lead a Big Ten football program to success.

I repeat: Nothing.

I’m certainly not rooting for him to fail, and I hope that he ultimately proves me wrong, but as of right now I’ve noticed far too many leaks to feel comfortable in this boat. I respect and admire the patience of anyone who chooses to continue rowing. Unfortunately, I won’t be one of them.

I was admittedly hopeful earlier this season when people started commenting with some version of, “This team feels different,” after the first three games. I wanted to believe, too.

Instead, we’ve just been given more of the same.