Here's what we learned about P.J. Fleck in his debut as Minnesota Gophers head coach.
For one, as expected, he has a lot of energy.
Before the start of the game, Fleck led the Gophers out onto the field -- by running what looked like would have been a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. He was seen giving players a jumping bump after Minnesota's first touchdown. He ran to players after big plays. Gave Jacob Huff a hug after the defensive back snared an interception. While yelling at the refs while asking for an intentional grounding call, Fleck did a nice tap dance to get off the field and back on the sideline before being spotted for his infraction.
Second, he's not a miracle worker.
Minnesota's performance in its 17-7 win over Buffalo wasn't exactly inspiring. The Gophers averaged just 3.3 yards per rush and had a number of unimpressive drives. Kicker Emmitt Carpenter, who missed just two field-goal attempts in 24 tries last season, was just 1 for 3 on Thursday.
It's going to take time as Fleck gets his own players and figures out what he has currently (for example, quarterbacks Conor Rhoda, who started, and Demry Croft both saw extensive time).
But, third, he's 1-0, becoming the first Gophers head coach to win his debut since 1986. When asked right after the game what the first victory meant, he said it was "elite." Because of course he did.
Here's a recap of Thursday night's game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Maybe we should retitle this Player of the First Half. Even though he didn't do anything in the second half (four targets, no catches), wide receiver Tyler Johnson was the story of the first half. He opened the scoring by catching over the middle at the Buffalo 43, turning left, slipping an attempted tackle and outrunning the defense for a 61-yard touchdown. He'd catch four passes on a would-be scoring drive, which ended on an interception in the end zone. Overall, he had six catches for 141 yards -- or exactly the amount of receiving yards he had in 2016. Last season, Minnesota had one 100-yard receiver vs. an FBS team, and that was in a loss (Brian Smith at Penn State).
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
The defense played pretty well -- Buffalo shot itself in the foot at times but still only had 262 yards of offense -- so we shouldn't overlook this side of the ball. Our choice here is Antoine Winfield, who had seven tackles (five solo), a sack and two passes broken up, one of which nearly resulted in an interception for Kiondre Thomas. He also got a hand on a low field-goal attempt for a block. "Gosh, is he special," Fleck said of Winfield.
Buffalo pulled out a couple of trick plays against Minnesota. One, early in the second quarter with the Gophers up 14-7, nearly resulted in a touchdown, if not a big gain. On a flea flicker off a reverse, Bulls wide receiver K.J. Johnson was wide open downfield. Tyree Jackson's pass was on target, but Winfield made a nice recovery, closing the gap and knocking the ball away. At worst, Buffalo would have been in scoring position Instead, it was just an incompletion and any momentum was quelled.
69 -- Total yards for Buffalo in the second half, 66 of those came through the air. The Bulls averaged just 2.7 yards per play in the half as they never crossed midfield and got past their own 34-yard line just once in six possessions. Yeah, that lead was pretty safe.
THEY SAID IT
"We have got to be able to play better. We had to do what we had to do to win the football game. That’s exactly what we did." -- head coach P.J. Fleck
"It was a really cool feeling. I threw one at Maryland last year, but being able to do this in front of the home fans and a tone of family tonight was special. Everything I have gone through in the last five years played through my head. I really tried to feel the moment." - quarterback Conor Rhoda, who nearly transferred after last season, on his touchdown pass
Jesse JohnsonJesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota takes to the road, playing at Oregon State next Saturday night. The Beavers suffered an embarrassing 58-27 loss at Colorado State in their season opener and will host FCS Portland State on Saturday.