ANN ARBOR, MICH. – P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra is meant to inspire perseverance when adversity strikes, but his life slogan also can be applied literally to his first season as Gophers coach.
The Gophers might want to buy a boat to navigate a season of stormy weather.
The Gophers faced a weather delay for the third time Saturday night at Michigan Stadium. Lightning delayed kickoff of the Gophers-Michigan game roughly 50 minutes.
The night deteriorated from there.
The Gophers put forth a water-logged performance as miserable as the weather. Their defense allowed 371 yards rushing and their offense did basically nothing in a humbling 33-10 loss.
“We got whupped,” Fleck said.
Concise and accurate.
The Big House became a flooded house before kickoff as heavy rain poured onto the field. Good thing the Little Brown Jug didn’t go gently down the stream. The 96-year-old trophy stayed securely where it mostly resides.
In Michigan’s trophy case.
Want to see what well-rounded futility looks like? Chris Evans rushed for 191 yards and was Michigan’s second-leading rusher. Karan Higdon edged him with 200 yards.
The Gophers offense managed a measly 52 yards after the first quarter. And Fleck put a bow on it by calling for a 23-yard field goal with his team trailing by 26 points with less than two minutes left.
“I wanted to come away with points, period,” Fleck said.
Crummy weather has become a recurring theme for Gophers game day. Their game at Purdue on Oct. 7 had an 88-minute delay in the fourth quarter because of lightning. They hosted Michigan State the following week and sat through a 34-minute delay because of lightning again.
Two other games — Oregon State and Illinois — were played in the rain, at least partially.
The weather Saturday was befitting a turbulent day in the Big Ten. The Iowa Hawkeyes, who looked decidedly average against the Gophers last week, throttled Ohio State 55-24 at home. Michigan State defeated Penn State on a last-second field goal. And Rutgers earned its third Big Ten victory.
The Gophers outcome was entirely predictable, a performance that reconfirmed they are nowhere close to being a contender.
“We got whupped, but we got whupped 33-10,” Fleck said. “It wasn’t 79-6. I’ve been a part of some of those. This is all part of the process, but we have to learn from this.”
The final margin was irrelevant because the Wolverines never felt threatened. The Gophers; futility on defense was an embarrassing parade of missed tackles and poor angles. Michigan’s offensive line won the trenches decisively and then the Gophers compounded their problems with one of the worst displays of tackling imaginable.
Michigan scored touchdowns on a 77-yard run (untouched up the middle), a 60-yard run in which the Gophers missed three tackles and a 67-yard run in which the defense again missed three tackles.
Their execution was atrocious.
“We had a lot of people miss a ton of tackles,” Fleck said.
The one-side nature of the game felt reminiscent of a 58-0 thrashing here in Jerry Kill’s first season, 2011. This one was equally hard to watch.
Fleck has bemoaned his team’s youth and inexperience, but that doesn’t explain the performance by his defense entirely. Veterans missed tackles and took poor angles in pursuit.
The Gophers needed a solid effort by their defense because their offense was facing one of the top defenses in college football. Michigan’s defense under coordinator Don Brown (nicknamed “Dr. Blitz”) is fast and aggressive and ranked No. 1 nationally on third down.
The Gophers game plan was one-dimensional because they have no semblance of a passing game. Demry Croft can’t be trusted as a passer and his receivers rarely get separation on routes so the Gophers basically ran the same three plays over and over, ineffectively.
Frustration boiled over when Gophers left tackle Donnell Greene foolishly punched a Michigan player in the head after the whistle, earning an ejection. “That’s 100 percent unacceptable,” Fleck said.
Everything about the game was a bad look.