Things had gone well for P.J. Fleck and Minnesota in the first three games under the new head coach. Playing at home and against a Maryland team forced to use its third starting quarterback, things were supposed to remain the same.
Not so fast.
In a back-and-forth game, Maryland's late, fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown was the difference as the Gophers fell 31-24, handing Fleck his first defeat as Minnesota boss.
Minnesota has been a ground-and-pound team, but the Gophers were outrushed by the Terrapins 262-80.
Minnesota also made too many mistakes, the final ones coming at the end as the Gophers needed a touchdown to tie. Shannon Brooks allowed a pooch kickoff to bounce past him; he chased the ball down but was tackled at the four. Three plays later, Maryland's J.C. Jackson stepped in front of Gophers wide receiver Eric Carter for an interception to seal Minnesota's fate.
Three Minnesota player had double digits in tackles, but it was Jon Celestin who seemed to be everywhere. Maybe that's because he had a career-high 15 tackles, 11 of which were solo. Celestin also had one tackle-for-loss.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
In Minnesota's first three games, the tight end has seemed like a forgotten position. Entering Saturday, seniors Nate Wozniak and Brandon Lingen, who coming into the season were thought to be a big part of the Gophers' offense in 2017, had just a combined six catches for 81 yards. Against Maryland, we got a glimpse of how the pair can help Minnesota's offense, both catching two passes -- each with one over 20 yards -- for 60 yards and a Lingren touchdown.
USA TODAY SportsJesse Johnson
Early in the second quarter, Minnesota was driving for a score and on Maryland's 15-yard line. But Conor Rhoda threw a pass too high, Tyler Johnson jumped for it but could only get his fingertips on the ball, it deflecting off him and eventually into the arms of Maryland's Josh Woods for an interception. Who knows how the game would have played out, but certainly in a close affair the Gophers could have used those points, whether it was three or seven. Worse, the Terrapins would take the ball down the field after the turnover and score a touchdown. A potential 14-point swing.
262 -- net yards rushing for Maryland. Minnesota had entered the game having allowed just 177 yards on 63 carries (2.81) in three games combined. It was the most rushing yards and highest average allowed by the Gophers since Missouri had 337 and 7.49 in the 2015 Bowl, and most in the regular season since Oct. 18, 2014 vs. Purdue (298, 8.51). Thirty-four of Maryland's rushing yards came on Ty Johnson's go-ahead touchdown run with 1:10 to play.
THEY SAID IT
"Well the biggest message was, ‘We did not deserve to win the football game.’ We lost the turnover battle two to nothing. We did not tackle well in space, which was one of the biggest focuses for us this week. We did not take advantage of opportunities on special teams. When you lose all three phases, it is really hard to win a football game with a young football team." -- head coach P.J. Fleck
"It’s awesome to be back and to try to help this team win. But there’s 10 other guys out on that field doing their job. I’m just the one who made the catch." -- tight end Brandon Lingen
“We told everyone when we walked on that field to just do their job. You don’t have to be Superman. Just be a man and things will fall into place, and that’s what happened. After the pick… I was happy, smiling, dancing. It’s an amazing thing, great win." -- Maryland defensive tackle Cavon Walker.
Minnesota heads to Purdue for its first road conference game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The Boilermakers (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten) were off this weekend. Under new coach Jeff Brohm, Purdue scored 28 or more points in each of its first three games, including a close loss to Louisville and wins over Ohio and Missouri, before falling 28-10 to Michigan.