MINNEAPOLIS – Well, a win’s a win.
P.J. Fleck’s much-anticipated debut as the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers was underwhelming to say the least, but in the end, the 17-7 win over the Buffalo Bulls might be just what the young coach and his program needed. With some Gopher fans expecting to compete for championships right away, the evidence presented on the field Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium seemed to indicate that those expectations may not be in line with reality.
Fleck himself has spent some time trying to temper those expectations while maintaining his trademarked “row the boat” enthusiasm. He’s smart enough to know that unrealistic goals can also sink the boat, and the Gophers’ lackluster performance against the Bulls may be a gift in disguise. The Gophers got the win, of course, but Fleck has an opportunity to control the conversation once again in respect to what his team can realistically accomplish.
There were some bright spots for the Gophers. Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Johnson made plays throughout the night finishing with six receptions for 141 yards including a 61-yard touchdown catch. Fellow sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr. was just as prevalent on the defensive side of the ball with seven tackles including a sack while making two huge pass breakups on trick plays that could have been touchdowns. Winfield’s athleticism allowed him to recover each time and make the play, and it was also on full display when he blocked a field goal.
Those plays alone by Winfield were responsible for possibly keeping 17 points off the board, and in a game where the Gophers offense was mostly stuck in neutral, it proved to be huge. Almost all the scoring in the game came in the first quarter – Johnson’s 61-yard grab got things going at the 9:35 mark before Buffalo responded with a 16-yard Tyree Jackson-to-Anthony Johnson combination to even the score with 4:37 remaining in the opening quarter. Shannon Brooks then added a 1-yard touchdown run to give Minnesota a 14-7 lead at the 43-second mark, and that’s where things would remain until late in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo had its opportunities to cut into the lead – three of those, as noted, were thwarted by Winfield – but, in the end, the Bulls were unable to establish an effective running game with just 51 net yards rushing. That led to an inability to sustain drives, and the Bulls finished the game with just 13 first downs. The Gophers finally put the game away with just 2:05 remaining when Emmit Carpenter knocked a 43-yard field goal through the uprights to give Minnesota the 17-7 advantage.
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