Scot Loeffler's words were sincere and delivered as a compliment. The Bowling Green football coach had just led his Falcons to a stunning 14-10 victory over the Gophers on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, and he was trying to ease the pain of the home team.
"P.J. Fleck and this Minnesota team is a good football team," Loeffler said, opening his postgame news conference. "They're going to bounce back.''
There it was, the "hang in there, things are going to get better" pat on the head from an opposing coach. With his team entering the game as 31-point favorites, Fleck was expected to be the coach offering comforting postgame words. Instead, he was left to say, "That 100 percent falls on me. Every single thing that happened out there on that field falls on me."
And there were a lot of "every single things" that added up to the embarrassing loss on Homecoming. Minnesota's offense, with a fourth-year starting quarterback in Tanner Morgan and a veteran line, mustered only one touchdown drive and had to settle for a first-quarter field goal after an interception gave the Gophers the ball at Bowling Green's 23-yard line. Morgan was under pressure all afternoon, with the Gophers allowing four sacks —all on third down, and two that pushed Minnesota out of field-goal range.
"I just have to execute better, put our guys in better opportunities to be successful,'' said Morgan, who completed only five of 13 passes for 59 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble.
The Gophers special teams were a mess, too, with a roughing-the-punter penalty extending a Falcons drive and an illegal formation penalty giving Bowling Green a first down after it had missed a field-goal attempt. A muffed fourth-quarter punt, a missed field-goal attempt, short punts and questionable decisions on fielding returns added to the Gophers' special-teams issues.
Minnesota's defense did enough to secure a victory under normal circumstances. A week after allowing only 63 yards in a 30-0 rout of Colorado in Boulder, the Gophers limited the Falcons to 192 yards, including 22 on the ground. In addition, Bowling Green converted only two of 14 third-down situations. One Falcons touchdown came in the second quarter after Fleck's fourth-and-1 decision from the Minnesota 29 resulted in a 5-yard loss, and the other TD came on a 65-yard drive following a missed Gophers field goal.
"We're a team. I'm not going to divide the offense, defense and special teams as much,'' Fleck said. "We didn't do what we needed to do as a team.''
Like his recent predecessors on the Gophers sideline, Fleck now has a nonconference loss as a heavy home favorite on his record. For Glen Mason, it was 20-point underdog Ohio University in 2000. For Tim Brewster, it was South Dakota, a sub-.500 FCS-level team, in 2010. And for Jerry Kill, it was 20-point underdog New Mexico State in 2011.
"This one hurts, but again, I said to the players after, I don't evaluate losses," Fleck said. "A loss is a loss. Bad losses. Good losses. I get all of that."
If there was one saving grace in the loss — and that's a huge "if" — it was that the defeat was not in Big Ten play. The Gophers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) resume their conference schedule Saturday at Purdue. Technically, they still can win the West Division. Realistically, that's a whole different question.
"Now we can go into our conference play with a mentality because everything is in front of us, everything is still there," Fleck said. "And we have a really good football team."
After Saturday's loss, his last statement didn't sound as convincing.