Fresno State Needs to be a Win for PJ Fleck and Gophers

PHOTO: ANTHONY SOUFFLE – STAR TRIBUN

PHOTO: ANTHONY SOUFFLE – STAR TRIBUNE



If you’re reading about the Gophers on any of the major local outlets (here, here, and here) as we head into the weekend, you may have found yourself suddenly intrigued (or worried) about a football game this weekend that appears to be more competitive than you may have expected. And the point-spread for a home game might make you take a 3rd look…

Fresno State isn’t a mid-conference team that’s really stuck out in the way that some others have, like Boise State or TCU, who now garner the respect of everyone they play, no matter the conference (although TCU now plays in a power-5).

But, boy oh boy… after a 10-4 season last year, those who follow the Gophers hard enough to know better are shaking in their boots about the Bulldogs coming to town. Ryan Burns of GopherIllustrted.com put up the warning lights earlier this week on his regular appearance with Paul Allen on KFAN. Burns also interviewed the 247Sports local beatwriter for the Bulldogs, Jackson Moore, who picked Fresno to win 28-24 tomorrow night.

On Thursday, I talked with Toups about this subject on my weekly appearance on his radio show “The Scoop”. The Bulldogs played Idaho last week and cooked them faster than any potato that’s ever been deep-fried in that state. It was ugly. Let the panic begin…

Scared yet?

You shouldn’t be. Really. WE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF FRESNO STATE UNIVERSITY.

I’m sure Fresno has a nice little team. I’m sure they will finish near the top of their shitty little conference. I’m sure their coach will go on to have more success against subpar opponents, both on the field and on the sideline, for a couple more years before a power-5 school offers him a real job.

But, Gopher fans… WE ARE THAT REAL JOB.

PJ Fleck left Western Michigan, where he had WAY MORE success than this coach for Fresno, to come to Minnesota. I don’t care if they beat the Idaho Potatoes by 340 points. They shouldn’t score more than 14 against our talented defense. Zach Annexstad could’ve went to a school like Fresno State and threw for record-breaking numbers. But, he didn’t. He walked on here.

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Remember what PJ says about changing the way you think? About changing the culture around Minnesota Gopher Football? This is what he’s talking about. We need to believe that we can beat smaller conference teams without even throwing the ball, if we don’t want to. That our HUGE Big Ten-caliber offensive lineman can mow down the Bulldog defensive front EVERY SINGLE DOWN.

I don’t care what the spread says. If PJ wants to do all of the things he’s talked about since he arrived, he will win these games. In year 1, 2, 5, 25, or 0…. you beat mid-conference opponents, who come to your home-field, for a night game on national TV. You seize these opportunities with both hands and you choke the life out Fresno State before they even get a chance to realize the game has started.

It’s time for PJ and the Gophers to make a statement tomorrow night, to the rest of the Big Ten. I’ll take a victory any way we can get it. But, I really want to see a dominating performance. They should get out to an early lead and never waiver.

Offensive Keys

No slow starts like last week. Give Zack the reins and let him take over, open up the run game, and then leave them with no way to stop an offense that has immensely more talent than their defense. But with that, we are trusting Zack to keep the ball safe and not turn it over. You can’t give them momentum. That’s what hurts you in these games.

Defensive Keys

While our defense is on the field, the key will be a smart pursuit plan from our defensive line. Half of the points Fresno State scored against the Potatoes last week were from their special teams and defense (see graphic above). They have a versatile and mobile quarterback, in Marcus McMaryion. Overpursuit that lead to long scrambles were a problem last week on defense for the Gophers. They can’t let that happen again.

Contain the QB on defense, leave the training wheels off of our QB, and don’t turn the ball over. If those things all go as-planned, the Gophers should walk away with this one handily. And doing that in a game like this… would just be another item of proof that PJ Fleck is different than all of the previous coaches, who served up nothing but broken promises.

Please, PJ… please give me another reason to love you more than your wife does…. please.

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Eric Strack
Minnesota Sports Fan @RealMNSportsFan