When the Gophers football team made its quick jaunt to Colorado over the weekend – spending roughly 22 hours in the Boulder area in hopes to mitigate the impact of the mile-high elevation – one message it received from the coaching staff stood out.
"We talked about it early in the week, just playing a full game – offense, defense and special teams,'' linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. "Having fun out there and playing all four quarters. I really felt that out there.''
Colorado felt it, too, in the form of a 30-0 shutout loss administered by a Gophers defense that put together its best game of the season in a dominant performance. Minnesota held the Buffaloes to 63 yards of offense. That figure is the fewest for an FBS school since Kansas mustered only 21 yards in a 43-0 loss at TCU in 2017.
The Gophers record for fewest yards allowed in a game is 48 in a 21-0 victory over Navy in 1962. Minnesota was on track to break that record Saturday – it entered the fourth quarter with 28 yards allowed — until Colorado scratched out 29 yards on its final possession in the last 5 minutes. That marked the only time the Buffaloes strung together back-to-back first downs.
"I looked at everybody, and they were all having fun playing together, a connected defense,'' Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Monday. "We talked about embracing our past to create our future, learning from the first two games.''
Those first two games included 495 yards given up in a 45-31 loss to then-No. 4 Ohio State, and 341 yards overall and 23 second-half points in a 31-26 win over Miami (Ohio).
Saturday, the Gophers held Colorado to minus-19 rushing yards, a total that ranks fourth fewest in Minnesota history. Thirty-one of the negative yards came on the Gophers' four sacks of quarterback Brendon Lewis, but the defense also held the highly regarded Buffaloes running back duo of Alex Fontenot and Jarek Broussard to 12 yards on eight carries.
The Gophers will see if their defense has an encore Saturday with its homecoming contest against Bowling Green at Huntington Bank Stadium. The Falcons (1-2) posted their first victory of the season, 27-10 over FCS-level Murray State on Saturday. They enter Minnesota's final nonconference game of the regular season averaging 53 rushing yards per game (129th of 130 FBS teams) and 291.7 yards of total offense (121st in FBS).
To have all that fun the Gophers did in Boulder, they went through some not-so-fun times during the week's preparation. To acclimate his team to the elevation and road atmosphere, Fleck had his team practice last week in its indoor facility, where he turned up the heat, noise and general annoyance factor.
"I was proud of the preparation they had,'' Fleck said. "Last week of practice wasn't easy. In the indoor [facility], heat turned up, pretty stale air, dry air, constant speakers with altitude and how high we were. 'Are you getting queasy yet?' All those things you hear throughout the game, which is exactly what their fans were saying to our players.''
Afterward, those players, especially the ones on defense who produced the program's first shutout of a Power Five team since 2004 and its first on the road against a Power Five foe since 1977, could revel in their happiness.
"I just heard that [stat] in the locker room after we got in,'' said Gophers defensive end Thomas Rush, who had two sacks. "That's an awesome thing.''