MINNEAPOLIS -- P.J. Fleck carried a piece of paper ripped from a notebook into his news conference after the Minnesota Gophers’ 38-35 double-overtime win over Fresno State on Saturday night, Sept. 7. In black marker, he had listed all the miscues that nearly cost Minnesota victory at Bulldogs Stadium in Fresno, Calif.
The Gophers fumbled six times, losing three. There were seven penalties for 65 yards, three of which were thrown as the Gophers’ defense was set to get off the field on third down. Fresno State scored 17 points on those drives.
“When you take away those three things, complete different game,” Fleck said.
That many penalties are uncharacteristic for Fleck’s teams in Minnesota. The Gophers led the nation with the fewest penalty yards in 2017, and were tied for sixth-fewest last season. The seven flags were the third-most penalties in Fleck’s 27 games at Minnesota; they had eight for 80 yards in a 53-28 loss to Nebraska, and nine for 92 yards in a 48-10 win over New Mexico State last season.
Fleck used the list he made late Saturday for a team meeting on Sunday.
The penalties that kept the defense on the field were put into two categories. Fleck called the facemask penalty on defensive end Tai’yon Devers unacceptable because Devers was lashing out after being blocked about 30 yards away from the play. The holding call on safety Jordan Howden and a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Braelen Oliver Fleck considered more tolerable “hustle plays.”
The Devers flag came allowed Fresno State to pull within 14-10 just before halftime. Howden’s penalty led to a Bulldogs field goal on the first drive of the third quarter. Without Oliver’s flag, Fresno State would have faced a fourth and goal from Minnesota’s 10 in the first overtime.
Mum's the word
True freshman kicker Michael Lantz did not hear a word from Fleck before the two biggest kicks of his long collegiate career on Saturday.
Lantz made a game-tying extra point with 46 seconds left in regulation, another in the first overtime and then hit a 37-yard field goal in the second OT. He was five for five on extra points after missing a 35-yarder in the opener against South Dakota State.
“I don’t talk to our kickers during the game,” Fleck said. “I’ll encourage them. I’ll say, ‘Great job.’ But I’m not one of those coaches that goes to them before or after a big kick. that’s for practice.”
“What I did see,” the coach added, “was a very confident kicker, and that’s why we kicked the field goal.”
After a tight competition in fall camp, Lantz, who’s on scholarship, has separated himself from sophomore walk-on Brock Walker.
After his first overtime game at Minnesota, Fleck said on his KFAN radio show that his preference on the road is to attempt a two-point conversion for a victory but felt like his team had better conditioning and could outlast the Bulldogs in another OT. Fleck also said if his team wins the toss in overtime, he wants to start on defense to know if his team needs a touchdown or field goal to win or force a second overtime.
True freshman linebacker James Gordon made his collegiate debut on special teams. He is the fourth true freshman to play this season, joining Lantz, long snapper Brady Weeks and safety Tyler Nubin. … Fleck’s TV show will air from the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital on Wednesday. … Dating back to last season, the Gophers have won three straight away games for the first time since 2003.