PJ Fleck is His Own Worst Enemy

PHOTO: AARON LAVINSKY - STAR TRIBUNE

It happened again.

PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers had an opportunity to thrust themselves into the middle of the Big Ten West title race on Saturday, vs the Iowa Hawkeyes and failed. Heading into the matchup, PJ was 0-5 vs their Kirk Ferentz’ led southern border rival.

Now they’re 0-6. And this weekend’s loss makes it the third time in four years that Iowa has derailed the Gophers’ division title hope train.

PJ Fleck + The Definition of Insanity

What’s the definition of insanity? Some say, it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. PJ Fleck loves to use sayings and mantras in his coaching practices. But it’s safe to say that isn’t one of them.

Because PJ proved yet again this weekend that he’s incapable of changing his best vs the Hawkeyes. Instead of learning from his past mistakes, Fleck entered the Iowa matchup with the same fear-based coaching style that led to losses the first five times around.

Instead of heeding to the masses, a group that included myself, Chip Scoggins (Star Tribune), Ryan Burns (GopherIllustrated.com), Justin Gaard (KFAN) and many others, all of which were clamoring for a more aggressive approach vs Iowa, PJ went back to his comfort zone.

Playing Not to Lose Causes Another Loss vs Iowa

Minnesota trailed this entire game, falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter. Usually, that’s a recipe for a lot of passing. But not yesterday. Instead, QB Athan Kaliakmanis threw the football just 15 times all night, totaling 87 yards through the air. Mohamed Ibrahim, on the other hand, totaled 263 yards on 39 carries. And when the dust settled, the Gophers were on the losing side of a 13-10 mud fight.

What makes Fleck’s hesitancy to pass even more frustrating yesterday? Kaliakmanis completed seven of his first eight passes. On a drive in the second quarter, Athan threw five passes for 61 of his 87 yards and methodically led the Gophers to their only touchdown of the game.

To start the evening, the redshirt freshman QB looked crisp and, by halftime, he had forced the Hawkeye defense to account for his passing acumen, which opened more holes for Mohamed Ibrahim. But if you were hoping his hot start would lead to a change in Fleck’s offensive mindset for the rest of the contest, you were disappointed.

Because after that drive, PJ’s offense went right back into its shell, running the ball SEVEN straight times the next drive. They passed just seven times the rest of the game.

Fleck Needs to Stop Impersonating Kirk Ferentz

Fleck wants to be Kirk Ferentz. He wants to win games by running the ball as often as possible, passing it as little as possible and not letting the his team beat themselves. Unfortunately, by subscribing to that theory vs the Hawkeyes, the Minnesota Gophers have now beaten themselves six times in a row.

Some call it, “playing not to lose”, a strategy that Fleck will willingly tell you he believes in. And against lesser teams, cautiousness has been a successful strategy. PJ has the best winning percentage of any Gophers head coach since Bernie Bierman (1950) and there’s no doubt he’s raised the floor on football expectations at the University of Minnesota. Eight or nine wins per season was not the norm, prior to PJ’s arrival.

But vs the perennial juggernauts of the Big Ten West (Iowa, Wisconsin), playing “not to lose” isn’t good enough. In those matchups, the Gophers need to go out and grab victories. Until PJ Fleck figures that out, big time wins will be hard to come by.

Unfortunately, Fleck showed no signs of changing his best in his postgame press conference. He blamed the loss on just a few plays that didn’t go their way and he lauded the Gophers program for “always being in the hunt”.

Now, the PJ Fleck haters are out in mass. Some are even calling for his job, which is absurd. But the frustration being shown throughout the fanbase is on PJ. He’s become his own worst enemy. Until that changes, the Gophers will not become the Big Ten competitors Fleck has promised to be since his arrival in Dinkytown.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan