When Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck meets with his team to review and critique postgame video, he first shows clips of three plays in which his squad or a specific player displayed “HOW,” the coach’s shorthand for hustle and determination.
Last year, however, as the Gophers struggled to a 5-7 overall record and a 2-7 Big Ten mark, Fleck faced an issue. There wasn’t always enough “there” there in terms of positive clips.
“It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to find three. What’s the closest I possibly can get to three?’ ” Fleck explained.
Fleck had no such difficulty picking highlights after Thursday night’s 48-10 season-opening victory over New Mexico State, and three plays — one each on offense, defense and special teams — stood out to the coach.
On offense, he pointed to redshirt freshman right guard Blaise Andries’ pancake block of a New Mexico State linebacker. Andries pulled left on a sweep, drove the defender 5 yards and planted him into the turf, clearing a path toward the end zone for Seth Green on his 9-yard touchdown run as a Wildcat formation QB.
On defense, Fleck credited junior rush end Carter Coughlin for sprinting nearly sideline to sideline to make a shoestring tackle on Aggies quarterback Matt Romero, forcing a punt.
“That’s Carter Coughlin,” Fleck said. “He’s an undersized defensive end, but I think he’s got an oversized heart.”
On special teams, it of course was Antoine Winfield Jr.’s 76-yard punt return in which the sophomore defensive back broke five tackles and received stellar blocking on a play that lasted 20.6 seconds. Winfield shared the Big Ten special teams player of the week award for his effort.
“You show them these three ‘HOW’ clips. Why can’t we do that every play?” Fleck said. “And why can’t every person on the team do that every play? It’s human nature. If we can fight human nature and we can get to that level, we’ll be pretty unstoppable.”
With 28 freshmen (16 true and 12 redshirt) playing in the opener, Fleck delivered constructive criticism, too, during the video review. The tough love might be new to some youngsters used to being big men on campus in high school.
“In high school, you win on a Friday night, you wouldn’t have meetings until Monday, maybe after school. Everyone was really excited. Your girlfriend was wearing your jersey on Friday. Things were great,” Fleck said. “… College football is a little bit different because you meet right after the game and you’re critiquing everything. After a win or a loss, you’re going to be coached, about everything, every inch, every detail is going to be looked at, evaluated, which is different than high school.”
Such critiques could be helpful Saturday night, as the Gophers face a significant upgrade in opponents when Fresno State, a 10-win team and Mountain West Conference runner-up last year, visits TCF Bank Stadium. Under Jeff Tedford, the Bulldogs made a nine-win improvement in 2017, the former Cal coach’s first year at Fresno State. They opened their 2018 season with a 79-13 rout of Idaho last weekend.
“He’s a dangerous football coach in a very, very positive way,” Fleck said. “He’s one of those coaches that you enjoy competing with because you know how good he is. He’s got a really, really elite football team.”
Video clips, as Fleck surely has shown, will give his team a preview.