WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The previous time P.J. Fleck’s defense allowed more than 300 yards rushing in a game came in his second year at Minnesota in 2018.
The head coach was still building up Minnesota when his team allowed an astounding 430 rushing yards in a 55-31 loss to Illinois that November. The next day, Fleck fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
On Saturday, the Gophers gave up 300 rushing yards for the first time since that Illini loss. Purdue rushed for 353 yards in a 49-30 win at Ross-Ade Stadium. The two-win Boilermakers hadn’t rushed for 200 yards in a game this season and hadn’t gone over 300 since 2018.
“Just unacceptable,” said Fleck, who is 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Big Ten play with two games left in his seventh season. “Everything starts with me. I’ll continue to say that, but I mean that because I take that very personal when I say that. That’s not the cover up. Everything starts with me. And we got to get them ready to play.”
Given his standard line of putting losses on himself, Fleck was asked questions Saturday about what he, and his team, can do better.
Q: What do you feel like were the issues in the run fits Saturday?
A: “Everything. … There’s reasons; there’s no excuses. I mean, we’re decimated right now the linebacker position (with Cody Lindenberg and Maverick Baranowski injured). We got some guys playing at that position that haven’t played college football. We got some guys who are freshmen, true freshmen. I mean, (Matt) Kingsbury played tonight as a true freshman. That’s not where we want to be. We got some depth issues.
Q: From a coaching standpoint, what are the things you’re going to look to try to improve on?
A: I’ll have to go back and look at the tape. It comes down to the coaching piece, the fundamentals, the techniques, what did we call here, what did we call there. … I’ll just leave it at that.
Q: What do you feel like systemically needs to happen to eliminate this?
A: I know the reasons and those reasons equal time. I would love to be able to sit there and waive a magic wand, but it’s time. We’ve got to get some guys back on the field and we’ve got to get healthy. Unfortunately that is the position we are in right now.
Q: Third quarter, again. Offense for a third straight week, struggles —
A: You guys — not you guys, us in general — talk about this third quarter, coming out, everybody makes adjustments. We’ve had way too many dropped passes. They just kill drives. It’s simple: dropped passes kill drives.
We had a dropped touchdown, that changed the whole complexion of the first half. We drop other balls or are a foot off. The ball is thrown a foot behind or it gets knocked down. Ball gets thrown at somebody’s feet. …
We are an inconsistent football team right now. Period. When you have an inconsistent, young football team, inexperienced football team, and then you get injuries on top of that.
I’m proud of their fight, their scratch, their claw, their how, their effort. I’m so darn proud of how hard they play. You don’t get ribbons for playing hard. Nobody cares. But that’s what I love to see because I know the reasons why the results not becoming the result. Not excuses. But I know the reasons.”
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