The P.J. Fleck era of Gophers football – officially – is here, with Thursday night’s tighter-than-expected 17-7 victory over Buffalo at TCF Bank Stadium.
The aesthetics of the win likely didn’t impress many, and the fact that Buffalo went 2-10 last year and has been picked to finish near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference’s East Division won’t wow the populace, either.
What Fleck got out of his Minnesota debut was a win – and a performance that he knows must improve by next weekend’s game at Oregon State.
“We have to make sure we continue to do all the right things,’’ Fleck said. “… They are going to get better.’’
The Gophers will need to improve across the board as the competition stiffens. Here are the areas that need the most attention:
** Offensive line/running game: Though Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are considered the strength of the offense, they found space hard to come back against Buffalo. Smith rushed 23 times for 76 yards, while Brooks had 18 carries for 69 yards and a score. Their 3.5-yard average showed how tight things were up front because they didn’t have an abundance of holes to run through.
** Secondary: Antoine Winfield Jr. was outstanding, and the Gophers certainly needed him to be that good. But they were victimized, especially in the first half, by Buffalo receiver Anthony Johnson, who finished with 11 catches for 140 yards and a TD. With big-play wideouts like Middle Tennessee’s Richie James upcoming on the schedule, the Gophers need to shore things up.
** Kicking: Emmit Carpenter was nearly automatic last year – 22-for-24 on field goals – but he missed from 50 and 36 yards Thursday. He did make the game-sealing 43-yarder, so that’s a good sign that the misses could be an aberration.
With the tight win, Fleck has his teaching moment to use in preparation for the trip to Oregon State. That’s much better than trying to teach after a demoralizing defeat.