MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team takes its 1-1 record on the road this week, heading to Colorado on Saturday for its lone non-conference game against a Power Five opponent.
The Gophers are coming off a 31-26 win over Miami (Ohio) in a finish that was uncomfortably close. With 12:23 to play, Minnesota led just 21-20 before making enough plays late to hold off the Redhawks. It’s been thought throughout the offseason that Minnesota’s biggest non-conference test would be against the Buffaloes.
It’s on the road, in the elevation at about 5,000 feet and Colorado is coming off giving No. 5-ranked Texas A&M everything it wanted in a 10-7 loss. The Buffaloes had a 7-3 lead until the Aggies got the game-winning touchdown with 2:41 to play in regulation.
P.J. Fleck said Monday he’s been preparing his team for this road trip for months. It’s included switching up practices inside, outside, at Huntington Bank Stadium and traveling to TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
"It doesn’t matter where you play. The New Orleans Saints got uplifted out of their natural setting, going to Jacksonville, and they just blew out the Packers 38-3. You can’t allow the circumstance to dictate your behavior. If you’re going to be a really good football team, you’ve got to win every week no matter where you play," Fleck said.
He’s consulted professors on campus about sleep patterns with changing time zones, and plans for the Gophers to spend as little time in the Colorado elevation as possible. Whatever it takes to give yourself the best chance to win.
"The longer you’re there, the more it’s going to affect you. If we can get in and get out, it shouldn’t affect us very much at all," Fleck said.
FLECK SEEKS CONSISTENCY FROM RUNNING BACKS
It’s no secret that the Gophers like to run the ball under Fleck. Mo Ibrahim had 30 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State before going down with a season-ending injury. In that game, Trey Potts got 10 carries, Cam Wiley got three, Bryce Williams one and Tanner Morgan scrambled six times.
In Saturday’s win over Miami (Ohio), Potts ran it 34 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Morgan scrambled four times, Wiley got three carries for two yards and Williams got two carries.
It’s less than ideal to give one running back 30-plus carries every game, so what does Fleck need to see in practice to share more of the load?
"Just consistency. There will be some more guys into the mix as we keep going forward, but it’s just consistency on a daily basis," Fleck said. "I thought Trey had a really good game, but we need some more guys to step in and play well to take some of those carries off him and rotate some guys, which we will as we keep going forward."
CHRIS AUTMAN-BELL PROGRESSING, NEARING RETURN
It looked a lot like Gophers’ top wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell might make his 2021 debut against the Redhawks. He was fully dressed for warm-ups and looked good moving around, but he was in street clothes at kickoff. He’s now missed two straight games after suffering a leg injury during fall camp.
Autman-Bell returned to practice last week, and Fleck said he worked at the team’s Sunday night practice, which is for players who don’t play in games and need game-like situations for development. Fleck wouldn’t commit to him playing Saturday at Colorado, though signs point in that direction.
"He’s doing tremendous, I’ve been told day to day. He practiced last night, looked great. Whether he plays Saturday or not, that’s still not up to me," Fleck said.