P.J. Fleck answered the question before it could be asked on Saturday night.
On his own accord, the Gophers head coach explained why he let more than 30 seconds run off the clock just before halftime of the U’s 27-12 win over Michigan State.
Trailing 6-3, Minnesota had the ball and two timeouts at the Spartans’ 20-yard line with one minute, 12 seconds remaining in the first half. After Jordan Nubin’s run for 3 yards, the play was whistled over with 54 seconds left, but Fleck didn’t call timeout until only 35 seconds remained.
Some fans at Huntington Bank Stadium booed.
“The crowd wants some urgency” in the Gophers’ offense, Big Ten Network commentator Jake Butt said.
BTN play-by-play man Cory Provus was more direct: “Too much time came off the clock.”
After the stoppage, Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis was sacked on second down before he found receiver Daniel Jackson for a 22-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left. After that, Michigan State ran the ball for 10 yards on its only play before the half.
“Just before you ask me, I’m doing everything I can to see both sides of everything,” Fleck said. “I’d love to educate everybody who buys a ticket. I appreciate everybody buying a ticket.
“I can’t give them the ball back with time (on the clock).”
Fleck did a similar thing just before halftime in the loss to Michigan three weeks ago, and he gave a similar answer afterward. But the second-ranked Wolverines are not the same thing as the struggling Spartans.
“We still had a timeout,” Fleck said Saturday. “I want to bring it down under 30 seconds. That is plenty of time in football with a timeout. That’s like 20 minutes. You could go get a soda and come back and we are probably still there.”
A counter argument is the Gophers offense had struggled for much of the first half against the Spartans. Their first five drives ended this way: fumble, fumble, punt, punt and blocked field goal. The U might have needed every single second to score before halftime.
“As good as your defense has been, you’ve got to tell your team we could score a touchdown,” Butt said. “Got to be thinking touchdown.”
Like the Michigan game, the Gophers were thinking touchdown — and were successful in both instances.
That’s part of the reason this wasn’t a bigger issue Saturday. The Gophers scored a touchdown not only before the half but were in control for most of the second half to secure their second straight Big Ten victory.
With the win, the Gophers (5-3 3-2 Big Ten) moved into a four-way first-place tie in the Big Ten West division with Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. With wins against them earlier in the season, Minnesota holds tiebreakers over the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers, while the U plays Wisconsin in the regular-season finale two days after Thanksgiving.
The Badgers lost their one-game division lead Saturday with a 24-10 loss to No. 3 Ohio State in Madison, Wis.
With the victory over the Spartans, the U also moved to within one victory for bowl eligibility with four games remaining.
Illinois (3-5, 1-4) is up next in Minneapolis next Saturday. While there might be a difference of opinion with some of the fanbase, Fleck wanted to thank them for coming out to games.
“I just appreciate everybody being here and cheering as loud as they did,” Fleck added. “Our home crowd really means a lot to us. It was a good team win, a good family win. It was an excited locker room in there.”
Gophers football: Tyler Nubin shares pride over Jordan Nubin’s big day vs. Michigan State
Gophers run over Michigan State in a 27-12 win
Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell’s block helps out in a big way
Gophers football: After sweet taste of bourbon, P.J. Fleck and Co. need to avoid another sobering letdown
NCAA investigators interview Jim Harbaugh’s staff about sign-stealing scheme, AP source says