PJ Fleck Happy with Gophers’ Defense vs Penn State

Photo: Joe Hermitt - THE PATRIOT-NEWS

The Minnesota Gophers went to Happy Valley on Saturday where they were engulfed by Penn State’s 100,000+ annual “white out” crowd for 60 chaotic minutes of football. When the dust settled late, PJ Fleck’s squad limped back to the bus licking their 45-17 wounds and facing an uphill climb in the Big Ten West.

Complete system failure, right? Not really, said the University of Minnesota football coach on Monday morning. According to Fleck, the Gopher defense played great vs the Nittany Lions. He pointed to five explosive plays that wreaked havoc on the final score. (04:30 mark — Transcript Below)

“Defensively, we played really well. We gave up five explosive plays. But other than that, we played really well. That’s what’s hard over the last few weeks. You want to turn on the film and you want to be like ‘ugh, we busted this’; ‘ugh, we busted that’; ‘oh this was the wrong call or a bad call’… We just let up some explosive plays and we’re not built that way.” PJ Fleck

What the numbers say

I appreciate PJ Fleck’s optimism and explosive plays did hurt the Minnesota Gophers over the weekend. But the defensive flaws went far beyond five explosive plays. Even after throwing an interception to Justin Walley on Penn State’s first drive, Sean Clifford completed 74% of his passes, threw for four touchdowns and collected a QB Rating of 129.7.

And not only did the Gopher defense struggle to keep Clifford off-balance all night, failing to create much pressure without blitzing; but when they did have opportunities to get off the field, they failed. The Nittany Lions went 5 of 11 on 3rd down, but 4 of 5 on 4th down.

That’s a failure to get off the field 9 of 11 times, when given opportunities. Add all of those defensive failures together, and that’s how you surrender 45 points to a good opponent.

Dylan Wright to Return vs Rutgers

There was some positive news during PJ Fleck’s presser on Monday. Dylan Wright, who did not travel with the team to Happy Valley because of disciplinary reasons, will play on Saturday vs Rutgers. When locked in, Wright is the best and most talented option remaining in the Minnesota passing game, and it’s not close.

Hopefully his time off can help him put everything together because the talent is clear for #16.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan