P.J. Fleck explains his 'risk vs. reward' approach before halftime vs. Maryland

·3 min read

Oct. 24—Gophers coach P.J. Fleck explained his decision-making to not pass into the end zone when Minnesota had a first-and-10 at Maryland's 33-yard line with one minute left in the first half.

Minnesota had two timeouts and was in a prime spot to extend a 17-10 lead at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Fleck said the plan was to run the ball, drain the clock (or maybe bust a big gain) to set up a shorter field goal that would potentially made it a two-score game at 20-10. In the back of his mind, Fleck was thinking about how Minnesota would receive the second-half kickoff.

On first down, Ky Thomas gained seven yards and Fleck called timeout. He said postgame the plan "right then" was to go for the field goal.

"Something could happen, you get a sack, all these things going though your head," Fleck said. "It's risk versus reward. You get the ball in second half. That is all I kept thinking: We're getting the ball."

The Gophers ran the ball four more times, called their third and final timeout after the third carry, and then Tanner Morgan spiked it to stop the clock with four seconds left.

Kicker Matthew Trickett's 37-yard attempt was blocked by Tarheeb Still from the right edge, and Maryland's retuned to the Minnesota's 32 as the clock expired.

Fans at Huntington Bank Stadium booed as the Gophers went to the locker room. Minnesota would score a touchdown on that first possession of the second half to win 34-16.

Fleck was asked postgame if his thinking would have been different if his team wasn't going to get the ball to start the third quarter. "Probably," he said. "I probably would have been a little more aggressive.

"It's not playing it safe, it's not safe football," Fleck continued. "That's actually trying to win the game based on percentages, possessions, points."

Fleck also noted his approach Saturday was the result of Minnesota being unsuccessful in a similar situation at the end of the Colorado win.

On Sept. 18, Minnesota had a first and 10 at the Buffaloes 32. Tanner Morgan had an incompletion, and Sam Schleuter was flagged for ineligible receiver downfield. The five-yard penalty meant a 54-yard field goal attempt, and Trickett's career long is 50.

With the clock continuing to run in Boulder, Colo., which was a whole separate communication issue with officials, Minnesota handed the ball off on the final snap of the half and time expired.

OLSON HONORED

Sixth-year offensive lineman Conner Olson had a slight limp as he made his way to the podium after setting a new Minnesota record with his 52nd career start Saturday.

The Monticello, Minn., native broke the mark set by long snapper Payton Jordahl at 51 from 2015-18. Former quarterback Adam Weber had 50 from 2007-10.

"It's cool to get the record," Olson said. "Hopefully I break that record again next week.

Battling an ankle injury, Olson's starts have come consecutively since 2017 and are the fifth-longest streak in the country.

On Olson's big day, the Gophers rushed the ball for 56 times for 326 yards (5.8 per rush) and four touchdowns. Minnesota ran it 23 straight times to end the game.

"I always prefer running it rather than passing it," Olson said. "No offense to Tanner."

"None taken," Morgan responded. "It's fine with me."

BRIEFLY

Receiver Daniel Jackson missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. ... Defensive tackle Rashad Cheney was back after not playing in the last four games due to a personal reason. ... The Terps didn't have two of their best receivers and two of their top linebackers, and both sets of vacancies showed. ... Tanner Morgan threw for 125 yards, putting him over 7,000 yards and behind only Mitch Leidner, Bryan Cupito and holder Adam Weber, who has 10,917. ... The Gophers weren't forced to punt until there were five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

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