P.J. Fleck plans to hit the recruiting trail early this week now that the Gophers’ season is over. Here’s a quick suggestion: Find some legitimate Big Ten-caliber players on offense and bring them to Dinkytown.
Find a quarterback. Find a bunch of receivers. Find some offensive linemen.
And then keep searching some more because one recruiting class isn’t going to fix the mess put on excruciating display Saturday in a rivalry game that was more lopsided than an elephant sitting on a teeter totter with a mouse.
The undefeated Wisconsin Badgers didn’t even need bother wasting cargo space on the charter for Paul Bunyan’s Axe because the trophy had no shot of changing hands for the first time in 14 years. Predictably, No. 5 Wisconsin moved a step closer to securing an invitation to the College Football Playoff with a walk-in-the-park 31-0 victory at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Fleck said.
Miles to go on offense. The Gophers were shutout in back-to-back games for the first time since 1950.
The Badgers brought the nation’s No. 2-ranked defense to town, and the matchup was varsity vs. junior varsity.
Fleck’s reputation is that of a recruiting whiz, and he better be, because the gap between his program and the Badgers is wider than the Grand Canyon.
Fleck continues to note that his team lost four close games. OK, but the Gophers also weren’t remotely competitive in three Big Ten games — Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. In other words, they had no realistic chance of winning one-third of their conference games. Combined scores of those blowouts: 103-10. That’s sobering.
The Gophers lag so far behind Wisconsin as a program that all they can see is dust swirling in the air. The Badgers represent the gold standard in the Big Ten West because they operate with assembly-line efficiency and consistency. They have perfected their formula, especially on offense, and they don’t deviate from it.
The Gophers offensive identity is … what exactly? Hope Rodney Smith is sturdy enough to put 10 teammates on his back without breaking down?
Their offense is so feeble that a 26-yard completion in the third quarter felt like witnessing man’s first visit to the moon.
Did you see that! An actual catch. Wow!
The Gophers’ first five offensive possessions produced zero first downs and 13 total yards. They didn’t record a first down until the final minute of the first half. Stadium operators should have played Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” over the PA system.
Members of the sideline chain crew had the easiest job in the stadium when the Gophers were on offense. They didn’t have to move too often. From a distance, they looked like statues.
“We’re going to fix our issues,” Fleck said.
That’s a long to-do list. The Gophers entered the game ranked 121st nationally (out of 130 teams) in passing and likely will drop after amassing only 40 yards passing on three completions. Three completions in nearly 27 minutes of possession. That’s almost incomprehensible.
Croft likely isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback but he’s not even their biggest problem. The Gophers have only one receiver with legitimate Big Ten talent — Tyler Johnson, who missed the final two games because of an injury.
“There is no way that we’re going to look like that next year,” Fleck said.
Heck, let’s hope not. Their inability to generate any offense hung the defense out to dry against Wisconsin’s powerful line and Heisman Trophy candidate running back Jonathan Taylor.
The biggest game on the calendar offered no suspense, no excitement, not much of anything from a Gophers perspective.
Fleck’s first season didn’t come close to matching the hype and his bold talk. Injuries took a serious toll, but on-field results were utterly disappointing. That doesn’t mean Fleck won’t ultimately succeed here, but Year 1 was a real lemon.
“We will be better,” Fleck said, exaggerating his words for emphasis.
Fine, we’ll be patient, but Gophers football remains a 50-year assault on patience.