MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team’s non-conference win streak, which had been the longest in the country, is over at 21 games after a shocking 14-10 Homecoming loss to Bowling Green on Saturday in front of more than 46,000 fans at Huntington Bank Stadium.
The Gophers entered the game 31-point favorites, facing a 1-2 Falcons team that also went 0-5 in 2020. They trailed 7-3 at the half with the offense unable to find a rhythm, then made a series of crucial mistakes at key times as the Falcons gave them multiple chances for a comeback win they didn't deserve. Tanner Morgan had a deep pass for Dylan Wright that was underthrown and intercepted with two minutes to play.
The Gophers then needed to drive 58 yards in 23 seconds, and Morgan was intercepted a second time to seal the upset win for Bowling Green. The Gophers are now 0-17 under PJ Fleck when they trail at halftime, and the team headed to the locker room with fans booing a dismal offensive first half. The Gophers have played with fire in the non-conference before, needing a late rally to beat Miami (Ohio) 31-26 in Week 2. In 2019, they had to rally to beat South Dakota State and Georgia Southern.
Saturday, they got burned. It's the biggest upset between two FBS schools since Texas State defeated Houston in 2012 as a 35-point underdog.
"That 100 percent falls on me. Every single thing that happened out there on that field falls on me. We weren’t at the top of our game, we did not play our best football," Gophers coach PJ Fleck said after the loss. "Whatever you felt like could be some of the worst football we could’ve played, we just put it out there."
The program was riding an emotional high after going to Colorado and playing one of its most dominant games under Fleck in a 30-0 win over the Buffaloes, with around 10,000 fans making the trip. Seven days later, the Gophers played one of their worst games in Fleck's tenure. Fleck said there was no way to see it coming.
"That football team out there, I’m not sure what football team was out there," Fleck said.
Minnesota’s only offensive touchdown of the day came from Cole Kramer as the wildcat quarterback on a 19-yard run in the third quarter. At the time, it gave the Gophers a 10-7 lead. The Gophers ran for 182 of their 241 yards, but committed seven penalties and Morgan was sacked four times along with a pair of interceptions.
The Falcons got their first touchdown of the day after PJ Fleck opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter, with the Gophers at their own 30-yard line. Trey Potts, who finished with 27 carries for 147 yards, was stuffed for a loss on a run-pass option. Matt McDonald followed with the first of two touchdowns on the day. His second gave Bowling Green a 14-10 lead late in the third quarter, after Matthew Trickett missed a 52-yard field goal wide left that would've given Minnesota a 13-7 lead.
Morgan finished the day 5-of-13 for just 59 yards and had three turnovers, two interceptions and a lost fumble, facing pressure much of the afternoon with the offensive line struggling. He didn't complete a pass in the first half after the opening series, and Chris Autman-Bell was injured after his first catch and did not return.
Asked what went wrong in the passing game, Fleck said, "Everything."
"I have to play way better. You talk about being the reason at the quarterback position, and today I was the opposite of the reason. It’s 100 percent on me, and now I just have to respond," Morgan said.
The Gophers' special teams muffed a punt late in regulation, got a personal foul for roughing the punter and got called for an illegal formation, lining up over the long-snapper. That drive ended with Braelen Oliver forcing a Falcons' fumble that Terrell Smith recovered, but the offense didn't do anything with the new life.
The Gophers now take a 2-2 record into Big Ten play, at Purdue next Saturday. As dominant as they were in a 30-0 win at Colorado last week, Saturday’s loss is arguably the worst in Fleck’s five seasons as Minnesota's head coach.
"This is what Row the Boat is all about. This is a tough storm to go through, we’re going to go through it," Fleck said. "We’re not going to go around it, we’re not going to go under it, we’re not going to go over it. We’re going to go right through it, that’s what we do."
"I know this team, I know the things that they’ve been through. I know the resilience. We’re going to come back tomorrow and we’re going to get back to work," linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said.