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.
“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.