Gophers football: PJ Fleck recaps Rutgers, talks Nebraska and Halloween

PJ Fleck heard some of the audible groans despite the University of Minnesota football team snapping a three-game skid with a 31-0 win over Rutgers on Saturday.

The Gophers are 5-3, 2-3 in the Big Ten and are one win away from solidifying another bowl game appearance. But the offense wasn’t exactly dynamic in beating the Scarlet Knights. Tanner Morgan completed 14 passes for 122 yards. His longest play of the day went for 21 yards.

Instead, it was a ground-and-pound attack led largely by Mo Ibrahim. The sixth-year senior had a season-high 36 carries for 159 yards and three touchdowns. He had 92 of his yards after contact. He now has 46 career touchdowns, a new Gophers' record, and leads Power 5 football with 12 red zone- rushing touchdowns this season.

Fleck and the Gophers ran it 53 times for 255 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Some call it conservative, he says it’s what the game plan called for.

"We talked to Mohamed that he might have to be ready to carry the ball anywhere between 35-40 times. He did exactly that, we knew it was going to be that type of game. You make a game plan based on who you’re going to play and what type of game you think it’s going to be, and what they’re giving you. We did what we had to do to win the football game," Fleck said Monday. "We scored 31 points and won the football game."

Minnesota’s passing game has been lacking, other than in a 34-7 win at Michigan State, since Chris Autman-Bell went down with a season-ending leg injury in the non-conference. Daniel Jackson, Brevyn Spann-Ford and Michael Brown-Stephens combined for 12 catches and 103 yards on Saturday, but no scores. Morgan also had at least four passes dropped, including one early from Dylan Wright, who wasn’t targeted the rest of the game.

Again, Fleck said the game plan called for running the ball.

"We won 31-0, that’s the point of the game is to win. How we win is going to be very different week in, week out, and maybe some people won’t like that part. That’s OK," Fleck said. "That’s the sign of a program going in the right direction, people not liking how we win."


With the College Football Playoff and the Big Ten West probably out of the picture, the Gophers have four games left, starting at Nebraska on Saturday. Minnesota can earn bowl eligibility with a win over the Cornhuskers, though the standard entering the season was higher than six wins.

There’s also rivalry games left against Iowa and at Wisconsin. Fleck’s focus is leaving Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with a victory.

"It’s just being 1-0, that’s all we’re going to focus on. That’s not what the whole goal is and the whole goal of this week is. We’ve got to play our best football. I want to see our team play as balanced and as well as we possibly can, that’s the standard. That’s going to be our goal this week," Fleck said.


PJ Fleck’s weekly session with reporters happened to fall on Halloween, but he opted not to take the podium with a costume. Instead, it was an all black suit with a maroon handkerchief, and "M" pin on his coat.

"This is my costume," he joked.

The Illinois native was a Chicago Bears fan growing up, and was quarterback Jim McMahon five straight years as a child. Another year, he was Walter Payton.

"I didn’t want to be anything else. If it didn’t have anything to do with sports, I didn’t want anything to do with it," Fleck said.

The Fleck family did their Halloween trick-o-treating at their home on Sunday night. He had his kids go outside, ring the doorbell and they got their candy. His staff will take a two-hour break from 4:30-6:30 on Monday to be with their families and go trick-or-treating before heading back to the office to game plan for the Cornhuskers.

Last week, Fleck and the Gophers hosted 150 children from HopeKids, a group that helps youth battling cancer or other life-threatening conditions, for their Halloween party.

"Moments and memories is what life's about, period. Win games, lose games, hired or fired, you got to be able to have those experiences with your children," Fleck said.

His go-to candy? Snickers, which he said is also a game day indulgence. You’ll never see him eat a Bit-O-Honey, or the orange and black toffee.

"That was the worst, I hope nobody is giving those out. Those were the absolute worst," Fleck joked.