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Sid Hartman

Sid Hartman brings you the latest on Twin Cities sports.

Hartman: Can Gophers make first bowl game under P.J. Fleck?

The Gophers game with Northwestern on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium has become a huge contest in what once seemed like a lost season for the Gophers after they started 0-4 in Big Ten play. And while the Wildcats have won the Big Ten West the Vegas oddsmakers have seen the line move to being in favor of the Gophers by one point.

Those oddsmakers are usually more right than wrong, even though they haven’t figure the Gophers out, yet. Last week Purdue was favored by double digits in a loss to the Gophers, and earlier this season the Gophers were a favorite against Illinois, a game the Gophers lost 55-31.

Head coach P.J. Fleck was asked what he has seen from Northwestern as he will try and get his team into a bowl game for the first time at the U.

“The Big Ten West champs, they’re 6-1 in the league, they’ve already wrapped up this side of the division with two games left,” he said. “They’re very physical, they’re very experienced, they’re very sound and they don’t beat themselves.”

Is making a bowl game a big priority for Fleck?

“One day at a time,” he said.

The Gophers defensive performance in a 41-10 win against Purdue last weekend was one of their most surprising in several years as they allowed just 233 total yards on 62 plays by the Boilermakers.

What made it so surprising was that the team had struggled so much on defense recently, allowing over 600 total yards in two of their previous three games with a season high 659 yards allowed against Nebraska and then in their loss at Illinois they allowed 646 yards.

That led to Fleck firing defensive coordinator Robb Smith and promoting Joe Rossi to interim defensive coordinator.

Fleck was asked if that change made all the difference.

“I think the one thing we needed to be able to do after change is respond,” Fleck said. “No matter why or what the change is made for, our players had to respond and I thought they responded the right way, coaches and players.”

Another big change last week was the Gophers ability to run the ball, posting 265 yards on 41 carries, a 6.5 yard per carry average that matched their season high.

Fleck said that the offensive line has really come together and that the recruiting effort his staff put in at that position is starting to pay off.

“That is part of the rebuild,” Fleck said. “We knew we had to rebuild a lot of positions. Had to rebuild the roster. I am proud of the way a lot of the guys who have stayed and continue to contribute to this team as upper classmen. We have to continue to recruit at a very high level. 2019 recruiting is going really well, to be able to continue to fill in the gap and replace numbers and build on numbers in 2020. We’re off to a really fast start, as well.

“We have two freshman playing up there right now. We have seven starters on offense that are playing that are freshman right now with Curtiss Dunlap Jr. available for the last two games, if we need him.”

Has Fleck been surprised that Mohamad Ibrahim has been able to perform as well as he has with starters like Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith out?

“That was his third 100 yard rushing performance of the season, as a freshman,” he said about Ibrahim’s 155-yard performance against Purdue. “The last time that happened was back in 2003 with Lawrence Maroney. Everybody is on call right now, everybody has to be able to step-up. Everybody has to step in and make plays. If you used to be a four or a five on the depth chart you are probably at some point playing already. I’m just proud of the resolve of our football team.”

By the way, I'd like to thank the University for honoring me by naming the press box after me.  It is really appreciated. I spent a lot of time in press boxes over the year, and the Gophers SIDs have always taken great care of me, even when I get a little too excited about the officiating.

Hartman: Vikings' Siemian isn't surprised by alma mater Northwestern's success

Vikings backup quarterback Trevor Siemian said it is no surprise that Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats have secured their first Big Ten West title after starting the season 1-3 with losses to Duke and Akron.

 

 

Siemian played at Northwestern from 2011 to 2014 when they went 26-24 overall and Siemian, who officially started just 14 games, finished fourth all-time in passing yards for the Wildcats.

Northwestern will come into TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday to face the Gophers, who are trying to reach their first bowl game under head coach P.J. Fleck after a surprising win over Purdue last Saturday.

Northwestern hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2000, but Siemian said he believed Fitzgerald, who took over the team in 2006, was going to take the team to these kind of heights.

“He is a heck of a coach, a better person,” Siemian said. “He was so good to me and really fortunate for my time there. I am just glad to see he has those guys rolling and hopefully they can get another one this weekend.

“I am not surprised. It is really a cool time to be an alum and a fan. I couldn’t be more proud. It’s a lot of fun to watch those guys and I am really happy for them.”

Northwestern is led by quarterback Clayton Thorson, who has thrown for 2,335 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

But they have also dealt with a lot of injuries to players like cornerback Greg Newson II, wide receiver Jalen Brown and linebacker Nathan Fox. On Saturday they’ll be without cornerbacks Montre Hartage and Trae Williams, safety Jared McGee, and their kicker Charlie Kuhbander.

How does Siemian account for that?

“It’s obviously a really resilient group. I mean it’s just a testament to those guys and the character to keep chipping at it and keep coming together and again just so fun to watch those guys,” he said.

And while the Vikings backup went 0-2 as a starter against the Gophers, losing 20-17 at home in 2013 and 24-17 at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. He did put up some impressive numbers. In total he completed 57 of 96 passes for 503 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

“You know Minnesota has always been a tough place to play, to come up here,” Siemian said. “It will be fun to watch. I’m hoping the Cats get another one.”