Coach P.J. Fleck gave his usual evaluation after the Gophers beat Purdue 38-31 this past Saturday, highlighting three corrections for each position group.
Defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway, though, thought there was a better way to address the mistakes that have burdened the Gophers all season. He suggested instead of Fleck dictating general topics, each player should individually write down what he wants to amend.
Fleck took the advice, and this Saturday will prove if the exercise was worthwhile.
“There is a lot of room for improvement in this team, me included. We all have to be better,” Fleck said Monday. “When your team is winning games, and they are winning them how they are winning them, and they are still saying that they can’t wait to get back to work on those things, [that’s unique].”
For Dew-Treadway’s defense, most of those personal goals probably read something like “tackle better.”
The unit missed a boatload, particularly on a fourth quarter 99-yard scoring drive from Purdue. The Gophers allowed the Boilermakers to convert three third downs, including two from long distance, and a short fourth down.
“We have three third downs that we could have got off the field if we just tackle,” Fleck said Monday. “… We’re in the right position to hit, but we don’t wrap up. We don’t swarm.”
For special teams, there might have been some writer’s block. Some mistakes, like a muffed punt where a blocker impeded his own returner and a dropped punt, are fixable, but others have been flukes.
“Some quirky things happen. We’ve had that happen all year,” Fleck said. “Seth [Green] is in the right place on the onside kick. It happens to take a weird hop, and it hits him in the facemask [for a fumble].”
Overall, Fleck said the special teams units have been maturing, pointing to how many of his young players earn their first playing time there, including true freshman kicker Michael Lantz and long snapper Brady Weeks.
Lantz came up well short on a 51-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime at Purdue. Fleck said he saw Lantz make longer kicks in warm-ups, and with the Gophers up 28-10, it was a good opportunity to test him.
“That’s a huge learning moment for him,” Fleck said. “ ... There’s going to be some makes. There’s going to be some misses. We’ve just got to be good enough to overcome that.”
Senior punter Jacob Herbers rebounded from his first punt, a 31-yarder that played a part in a Purdue field goal, pinning the Boilermakers to their 1-yard and 2-yard line on later attempts. He earned the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week honor Monday for those.
Fleck also said the kickoff team has responded well since allowing some big returns in the season opener, including a 99-yard touchdown called back for a penalty.
A couple players, though, might have just written down one of Fleck’s staple sayings, “Change your best.”
Sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan completed 95.5% of his passes, the highest in the history of the conference for anyone with 13 or more throws. He also set career highs in completions (21), yards (396) and touchdowns (four) as the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week.
The Gophers will face Nebraska at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 12 at TCF Bank Stadium.