Gophers coach P.J. Fleck watched the film — gore and all — of his team's come-from-ahead 37-34 overtime loss at Northwestern and assessed what went wrong Monday, especially during the fourth quarter when Minnesota blew a 21-point lead.
Fleck knows that the blame lands on him because he's the coach. His job now is to get his team to apply the lessons learned from Northwestern going forward, which starts with Saturday's game against Louisiana.
The task of regrouping for the homecoming game against the Ragin' Cajuns might have become more difficult.
The status of Gophers running back Darius Taylor, the nation's leader in rushing yards per game, for Saturday's game is uncertain after the true freshman suffered an injury late in the fourth quarter against Northwestern.
Fleck on Monday did not give a specific update on Taylor, saying he'd have an update two hours before game time. That's when Taylor's official status will be known as the Big Ten releases its availability at 9 a.m. before Saturday's 11 a.m. game. Players listed as questionable or out appear on the report.
On a third-and-2 play from the Northwestern 36-yard line, Taylor was tackled for a 1-yard loss by Wildcats linebacker Xander Mueller and grabbed the back of his left leg near the knee. Taylor, who rushed 31 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, did not play in overtime, and Fleck said the team's medical staff held him out.
Taylor was named Big Ten freshman of the week for the third consecutive time on Monday. He has rushed 87 times for 532 yards and four touchdowns, stringing together games of 193 yards against Eastern Michigan, 138 at North Carolina and 198 at Northwestern. The Detroit native had a run of 43 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 play against the Wildcats.
"That's a Big Ten collision in a hole, and he not only won the battle, he finished it,'' Fleck said.
Taylor's average of 133 rushing yards per game is the best among FBS teams, a half-yard better than Appalachian State's Nate Noel. His average leads the Big Ten by 37 yards, with Rutgers' Kyle Monangai second at 96.
"He's one of the best players on our team already as a true freshman, but he is a true freshman,'' Fleck said. "So, there's going to be big learning curves as he goes forward.''
If Taylor can't play, senior Bryce Williams appears to be in line to be the Gophers' lead running back. Williams carried five times for 16 yards against Northwestern in his return after missing two games because of an injury. Sean Tyler, the Gophers' second-leading rusher with 136 yards on 30 carries, did not play against Northwestern.
"It's just by committee right now,'' Fleck said. "We've got a lot of backs. You're going to probably see other guys. You'll probably see Zach Evans, too.''
If Taylor can't play, the Gophers will be without 69.5% of their rushing output and 39% of their total yards.
They got a bounce-back game Saturday from quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, who followed what he called the worst performance of his career — 11-for-29 passing, 133 yards at North Carolina — with a solid showing at Northwestern, where he completed 14 of 19 passes for 153 yards and two TDs. He completed all eight of his first-half passes, including TD throws to Le'Meke Brockington and Daniel Jackson.
"It just shows where he can go,'' Fleck said of Kaliakmanis. "It shows where the whole team can go.''