Before investigation was revealed, Gophers football changed play-call process for Michigan game

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The Gophers football program altered a key in-game process when it played the Michigan Wolverines for the Little Brown Jug on Oct. 7.

On Sept. 30, players on Minnesota’s offense looked to the sideline for play-call signals during the 35-24 win over Louisiana. But in Michigan’s 52-10 win the following Saturday, the Gophers huddled before plays, with quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis often consulting a play card on his left wrist band. The Gophers offense huddled again in last Saturday’s 12-10 victory at Iowa.

Twelve days after the Minnesota-Michigan game, the Big Ten said the NCAA was investigating allegations of sign stealing by the Wolverines. The process of trying to glean what the other team is signaling from the sideline pre-snap is permitted during games, but scouting future opponents in-person has been prohibited since 1994.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck was asked about the Michigan investigation on Monday; all he shared to the Pioneer Press was that the Gophers huddled up to make play calls against the Wolverines.

The Big Ten Conference and NCAA have not communicated with the Gophers about this topic, the Pioneer Press has learned.

ESPN reported Monday that suspended Michigan staff member Connor Stalions has purchased tickets in his own name to more than 30 games over the past three years at 11 Big Ten schools.

ESPN said one Big Ten school consulted in-stadium surveillance video from a game this season and sources told ESPN the person in the seat of the ticket purchased by Stations held up his phone and appeared to film one sideline the entire game.

The Gophers might have discovered something on this issue at one of their prior games this season. Before they played Michigan in early October, the U played at Northwestern on Sept. 23 and hosted Nebraska on Aug. 31. The U has also had home games against Eastern Michigan and Louisiana and played at North Carolina.

Nebraska coach Matt Rhule was asked Monday if he felt there was an “unusual amount of knowledge” on Michigan’s sideline during the Wolverines’ 45-7 win over the Cornhuskers on Sept. 30 in Lincoln, Neb.

“No one from the Big Ten or NCAA has asked me anything, so I’m probably not going to comment on anything like that,” Rhule said. “I would never want to (cash in) on somebody else going though a hard time. I don’t know anything.”

Rhule acknowledged sign stealing happens in every game. “There is nothing wrong with teams over there looking over trying to steal our signs,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with us trying to look at their signs.”

Rhule, who coached the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from 2020-22, advocated for communication capabilities in the helmets of college quarterbacks, like they have in the NFL.

“All these (college) coaches vote against it every year; they don’t want to teach their quarterback,” Rhule said. “In the NFL, each quarterback goes out there with three play calls.”

With an earpiece in a quarterback’s helmet, Rhule said college programs wouldn’t have to go to current lengths to disguise play calls.

The Gophers often use three staff members to signal in play calls. They each wear a unique bright color shirt and hat to differentiate who might be the correct signaler at any given sequence.

“We could get rid of all the stupid signs on the sideline — pictures of rock stars and all that stuff — and we could just play football the way it was meant to be,” Rhule said. “You go to a high school game, there is technology on the sideline. You go to an NFL game, there is technology on the sideline. You go to college, there is nothing.”

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