Purdue Games Re-Write Narratives for PJ Fleck and Gopher Seasons

Photo: AP

It’s the morning of November 10, 2018 and the Minnesota Gophers football season is spiraling out of control. They’ve lost 5 of their 6 Big Ten games and the only team they’ve beaten is Indiana, who nobody knows is a sleeping giant in the East.

PJ Fleck just fired his long-time defensive coordinator, Robb Smith, because he didn’t have many choices left. He let Robb stick around for as long as he possibly could. There had been people calling on his firing for weeks.

Purdue @ Minnesota (11/10/2018)

Now, they were suiting up to play against a Purdue team on the rise under flashy new coach, Jeff Brohm. After a weird and shaky non-conference showing, nobody in the Big Ten could stop the Boilermaker offense. They were 4-1, including wins over #2 Ohio State and #19 Iowa.

Outside of one weird loss @ Michigan State, where they only mustered 13 points, Purdue had put up 38+ points on every conference opponent.

The Gopher defense, as mentioned, hadn’t been able to stop anyone all season. Under now-fired (DC) Robb Smith the week before, they allowed 53 points to the Fighting Illini…

There was some snow falling on TCF Bank Stadium but no amount of snow could save interim DC Joe Rossi and PJ Fleck, right?


After beating Purdue, the Gophers 2018 season finished with a bang. They’d lose their next game vs Big Ten West champion Northwestern, but then go to Camp Randall the next week, and take The Ax from Wisconsin for the first time since 1994. Then, they dominated Georgia Tech 34-10 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Minnesota @ Purdue (9/28/2019)

The Gophers are now 3 games into the 2019 season and momentum hasn’t carried over from their big 2018 finish. They’ve struggled offensively and defensively vs their non-conference schedule, which wasn’t laced with NCAA powerhouses.

They beat (FCS) South Dakota State University by one touchdown (28-21), before topping both Fresno State (38-35) and Georgia Southern (35-32) by field goals. That’s 3 terrible teams beaten by a total of 13 points. Gopher Nation was nervous again.

If the Minnesota Gophers barely walked out of games alive vs those three teams… how were they going to compete in the Big Ten?

But then… the Gophers went to Purdue.

That was how Minnesota opened their 2019 Big Ten schedule and completely changed the outlook of their season. Tanner Morgan went off, throwing for 396 yards and 4 TD/0 INT on 21/22 passing, launching him to an All Big Ten 2nd Team nomination.

The Gophers would go on to stretch what was a shaky 3-0 start, into a rock-hard 9-0 that included a victory over a top-10 Penn State. PJ Fleck and Co would finish 2019 with 11 total wins for the first time since 1904. Then, they’d finish by bullying Auburn in an Outback Bowl victory.

Purdue @ Minnesota (11/20/2020)

Here we are. It’s November 11, 2020 and the sky is falling on Gopher football. In a season that only includes Big Ten games, Fleck and his staff didn’t get an easy non-conference schedule to figure out a new offensive coordinator and a completely turned-over defense.

The results have shown it. Minnesota is 1-3 and the Gophers have been completely dominated outside of some good times in a close loss to Maryland and a dominant win vs a ratty Illinois team.

The Ferentz’ Father/Son combination came into TCF Bank Stadium last week and embarrassed PJ Fleck and his coaching staff 35-7 in a rivalry game with huge implications. Ferentz Sr. even left this parting shot, when asked why he called 3-straight timeouts right before the end of the game.

Now, there are crickets chirping around the Gopher Football hype train.

But…. Purdue is next on the schedule and if there’s any team that Minnesota has been able to beat (even in the worst of times), it’s Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers. So why not now.. why not us?

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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