On Saturday in State College, Pa., Penn State and Illinois engaged in a stare-down, and whichever team blinked first would be the loser. After nine overtimes, the Fighting Illini emerged with a 20-18 victory.
There's a twist here because of the NCAA's new overtime rules, which were designed to shorten games. Both teams start from the opponent's 25-yard line for the first and second (if needed) overtime. But if the game reaches a third OT, teams will alternate two-point conversion plays from the 3 — much like a hockey shootout — until a winner is decided.
In this case, the Nittany Lions and Illini were tied 10-10 through regulation, and each team kicked field goals in each of the first two overtimes. Both scored two-point attempts in the eighth overtime, making it 18-18. After Penn State's attempt failed in the ninth, Illinois won it with a successful pass.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck took notice and seized on the opportunity to teach.
"There's always situations that come up every single week that everybody is like, 'Hey, that's crazy. That ending was crazy,' and we constantly show [the players] different things," Fleck said. "New rules that are adapted that are called that maybe haven't been called in the past, how important those things are."
Fleck has made adjusting to the new rule a priority, addressing it during spring practice, training camp and weekly in the Gophers' situational sessions.
"It does make it exciting," he said. "You're constantly working on your two-point plays, and we have an awful lot of them. We probably have more than we've ever carried for those situations. You've got to be ready for a 10-overtime game or maybe even more.
"The worst thing you can ever do," he added, "is run out of plays."
Another 11 a.m. start
The Gophers and their fan base have had to get used to being early risers this season, with four games already featuring 11 a.m. starts.
On Monday, that number increased to five when the Big Ten announced that Minnesota's Nov. 6 game against Illinois at Huntington Bank Stadium will start at 11 a.m. and air on ESPN2.
So far, the Gophers have faced Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Nebraska at home and Purdue on the road with 11 a.m. kickoffs. They had a 7 p.m. start for the opener against Ohio State on a Thursday, a noon Central start at Colorado and 2:30 p.m. starts for Maryland last week and Northwestern on the road this week.
Fleck said defensive end Esezi Otomewo, who was shaken up after a making a tackle in the third quarter against Maryland, is good to play for Saturday's game at Northwestern.
Wide receiver Daniel Jackson, who missed the past two games because of an undisclosed injury, is expected back, Fleck said.
The view from Northwestern
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had his weekly news conference Monday and was complimentary of Fleck and how the Gophers have played.
"This is probably the most experienced team in the Big Ten, and it shows," Fitzgerald said. "… You can definitely see they're playing with a ton of passion and playing for each other."
Fitzgerald was especially impressed with how Minnesota's running game has fared since both Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts suffered season-ending injuries.
"They're down, quote-end quote, their top two backs, but I don't think that matters to their three guys who are playing right now. They're playing at a really high level," Fitzgerald said. "They really have a three-headed monster going there successfully."