Congratulations to head coach P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers! Saturday’s 37-34 overtime loss to the interim coach-led Northwestern Wildcats is one of the worst losses of the Fleck era, bested only by 2021’s humiliating loss at home to Bowling Green.
Let's start with the nuclear meltdown on defense.
Northwestern came into the game averaging 19.7 points per game. They scored 21 points in the fourth quarter alone. The Wildcats had previously scored 21 points combined in their two previous games against Power 5 opponents this season.
Northwestern came into the game averaging 186.3 passing yards per game. Quarterback Ben Bryant was 33-of-49 for 396 passing yards with four touchdowns, including the game-winner.
The Gopher defense allowed nine pass plays of 15+ yards. Cornerback Justin Walley bit on a hitch-and-go before halftime, allowing Wildcat wide receiver Bryce Kirtz to beat him for an 80-yard touchdown. Kirtz finished the game with 10 receptions for 215 receiving yards.
Perhaps the most egregious drive of the game was the three-play, 69-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter to cut Minnesota's lead to 31-24. Three pass plays, all to Kirtz, in the span of 40 seconds of game clock. They averaged 23 passing yards per play on that drive.
This is the worst Joe Rossi defense since 2020.
But make no mistake, this was a team loss. Every unit contributed.
Before the Wildcats' final drive of regulation, the Gophers punted from the Northwestern 37-yard line. Quentin Redding had the opportunity to pin them at their own one-yard line, but instead stood in the end zone and fielded the punt for a touchback, gifting the Wildcats 25 yards of field position. Never in my life have I seen a more bone-headed special teams blunder.
And then there is the offense.
We've blamed Mike Sanford Jr. We've blamed Kirk Ciarrocca. We've blamed Greg Harbaugh Jr. But the one constant has been P.J. Fleck and his inability to change his best.
Minnesota had three possessions after taking a 31-10 lead in the third quarter. All they had to do was score on one of them. Instead, they ran Darius Taylor into the ground, went nowhere, and punted all three times. To make matters worse, Fleck's risk-averse offensive philosophy may have cost them dearly, as Taylor was injured in the last play of that third drive.
This is Fleck's offense, plain and simple. He thought he could take his foot off the pedal and run out the clock in this game — as he all too often does — and it blew up in his face in spectacular fashion. And it's going to keep happening until he realizes that he is the problem.
You've got the most talented quarterback of his tenure at Minnesota. You've got an NFL tight end and talent at wide receiver, including a pair of transfers who played well at their previous programs. Yet you've still got Taylor carrying the ball 30+ times a game.
To be candid with you, my interest in college football is at an all-time low, and I'm anticipating I'll check out almost entirely once realignment kicks in next season. But I'm grateful to Fleck for giving me a reason to check out early. What an embarrassment.