Gophers: P.J. Fleck says they’re ‘that close’ to executing explosive plays

The University of Minnesota football team got home from a 31-13 loss at North Carolina Saturday night both with a sick feeling and optimistic about the rest of their season.

The Gophers ultimately couldn’t overcome a lack of execution on some key explosive plays, and allowing the Tar Heels to convert at key times. P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff changed their definition of explosive plays this season to those that go at least 25 yards. They got their first one of the season on a swing pass to freshman Darius Taylor.

Athan Kaliakmanis had a game he’ll learn from down the road. Brevyn Spann-Ford tried to tip a pass to himself in the red zone that was intercepted. Spann-Ford later had another drop that would’ve been a first down. Kaliakmanis missed Corey Crooms Jr. and Le’Meke Brockington on deep throws. Cole Kramer had Daniel Jackson open for a touchdown, but the throw was off and intercepted.

There were plenty of plays the Gophers would like to have back in a game that could’ve been much closer than an 18-point loss. Fleck says it comes down to execution.

"Execution sounds like a really cheap answer back to you, but it’s truly just throwing it to the open guy. We’re that close, if you go back and watch the film, we’re a foot off on most throws. These are the small increments that cost you a game versus a top-20 team, it costs you the explosive plays. We’re not far off," Fleck said Monday at his weekly news conference. "This is part of the journey and the process of playing some young players at some very young positions."

Kaliakmanis finished the day just 11-of-29 for 133 yards.

"I failed to execute, that’s on me. That was probably the worst game I’ve ever played. I let my teammates down," Kailiakmanis said after the loss. "I feel like everybody showed up today but me. I didn’t show up, that’s the bottom line."

Fleck said the developmental process with Kaliakmanis is no different than any other player, and they won’t skip steps.

"He’s got no problem taking accountability. Eighth game total and first year being a starter, if you expected him to come out like Joe Montana just because, you’ve got to go through the failing," Fleck said. "There’s a step of being a developmental program, you cannot skip failing. It’s the only way you grow, and as a developmental program, I choose to go through that. You’re going to have those. We’re that close."

The defense had its part, too. Drake Maye had a 46-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive that if Aidan Gousby turns his head around on, it’s probably a third down stop for the Gophers. They had a communication breakdown on a substitution, leaving half the defense looking at the sideline for the call. It resulted in a 55-yard completion for Maye, and eventually a Tar Heels’ touchdown.

"Everybody had a bad feeling in your stomach because we felt like we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. We didn’t play particularly well and that’s why I love this football team, they know that. All you had to do was execute," Fleck said.


For the second straight win, Darius Taylor is the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Taylor had 22 carries for 138 yards and Minnesota’s lone touchdown. He also had one catch for 26 yards.

In his last two games, Taylor has 55 carries for 331 yards, averaging six yards per carry and has two touchdowns.