P.J. Fleck stood at the podium on September 14, speaking to the media after Minnesota engineered another exhilarating comeback victory. Tyler Johnson hauled in a game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter to lift the Gophers to a 35-32 win over Georgia Southern.

Minnesota was 3-0, grinding out three one-possession victories in as many weeks. It was entering an off week with a perfect record. Fleck, who rarely experiences a lull during his press conferences, was left somewhat scrambling for words after the game.

“I think we’re a little bit emotionally — I wouldn’t say tired, we can’t get tired. But we’re just a little bit spent a little bit where the bye week came at a perfect time,” Fleck said in mid-September.” Everybody needs to take a deep breath. It’s been three big, emotional games.”

The Gophers were 3-0 heading into an off week, just as everyone had predicted. The way in which they had won all three games, though, was a tad concerning.

Minnesota needed a late fumble and touchdown to beat South Dakota State in the season opener. It took a ridiculous fourth down touchdown catch by Chris Autman-Bell and double overtime to down Fresno State. The Gophers converted a 3rd-and-30 on their final possession against Georgia Southern to keep a game-winning drive alive.

A team projected as a potential threat to the title in the B1G West had trouble finishing off an FCS program and a pair of Group of Five teams. The offensive line couldn’t block and the defense was allowing more than 5.0 yards per play.

The holes in the lifeboat were noticeable.

Fast forward three weeks and Minnesota is still undefeated, rattling off three straight B1G wins to get to 6-0, with each victory more impressive than the last.

Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Morgan completed 20-of-21 pass attempts and threw for 396 yards and three touchdowns in the Gophers’ B1G opener against Purdue, resulting in a 38-31 win. Minnesota’s defense surrendered just three points the following week in a 40-17 win over Illinois, with the Illini scoring two defensive touchdowns. Last Saturday, the three-headed running back monster that is Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim led a rushing attack that blasted Nebraska’s defense for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 win.

Since that off week, Minnesota has looked like the team that was expected to challenge the likes of Wisconsin and Iowa in the B1G West. The Gophers have looked better in every phase of the game in their three B1G contests than they did against non-conference competition.

The most noticeable improvement has come on the offensive line, which has translated to a more productive offense over the last three weeks. The Gophers are averaging nearly 120 yards more per game in B1G play than in non-league action. The yards per play has increased dramatically, as well.


  • vs. South Dakota State: 308 yards — 5.13 yards/play — W, 28-21
  • at Fresno State: 380 yards — 5.07 yards/play — W, 38-35
  • vs. Georgia Southern: 382 yards — 4.84 yards/play — W, 35-32
  • Average: 356.7 yards per game — 5.0 yards/play

B1G games

  • at Purdue: 488 yards — 8.71 yards/play — W, 38-31
  • vs. Illinois: 487 yards — 7.06 yards/play — W, 40-17
  • vs. Nebraska: 450 yards — 7.26 yards/play — W, 34-7
  • Average: 475.0 yards per game — 7.62 yards/play

Young teams tend to make subtle improvements throughout the year — the 2018 season for Minnesota is a perfect example. But rarely does this kind of positive change happen in such dramatic fashion.

There’s no question that Fleck’s plan to allow the players some time off while doing some self-scouting during the idle week has played a major role in the Gophers’ recent success on the field.

“Let’s get our players some time off to get away and us coaches, let’s get together and let’s scout each other. Let’s game plan each other,” Fleck said when asked how he approached the off week. “…I’ve gotta make sure our staff, our coaches, our players are all on the same page and that’s one of the things we did, and I thought it was a wonderful exercise. We’ve done it before, but this particular team, I thought it was really good for.”

Fleck was right, it has been really good for this team. The results speak to that.

Now, a team that looked like it might have to scratch and claw its way to a bowl appearance again is bowl eligible by mid-October and is staring an 8-0 record in the face, with games against Rutgers (1-5) and Maryland (3-3) upcoming. It could set up a potential battle of unbeatens on Nov. 9, when Penn State comes to Minneapolis — but that may be looking too far ahead.

A few weeks ago, games against Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin seemed almost impossible for Minnesota to win considering some lackluster performances. Now, the Gophers look more than capable of holding their own in those heavyweight bouts.

Fleck and the Gophers have struck gold in Minneapolis. Who knew it would take an off week for them to find it?