After being blown out by a combined score of 70-0 in the final two games of 2017, Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck saw his team wilt down the stretch, so going into last year, he preached a “refuse to lose” mindset.
The Gophers finished strong with their first win over Wisconsin in 14 years and a victory in the Quick Lane Bowl to close 2018, so Fleck has updated his approach. This year, he said Tuesday, is “about learning how to truly win games.”
As a slogan, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but that’s irrelevant as the Gophers look to improve on last year’s 7-6 record. “The education is going to be about how games are won,” he said. “How can this football team maximize the win column the best it possibly can?”
Pundits have varying responses to that question but Fleck and his staff have created what they believe is a winning formula: When a team misses fewer tackles than the opponent, wins the turnover margin and has more plays of 20-plus yards, it has a 78 percent chance of winning.
“When we did that (in 2018), we were 7-0,” Fleck said. “And when we didn’t do it we were 0-6.”
After the way last year ended, Minnesota received early buzz to be a potential Top 25 team this fall. When July rolled around, that wasn’t reflected by Big Ten reporters, who collectively picked the Gophers to finish sixth in the seven-team West division.
Fleck shed some light on how he personally feels the Gophers will be this fall.
“I haven’t been this excited for a training camp in a very long time because I love coaching this group of guys,” he said.
Gophers senior defensive end Carter Coughlin is more outwardly bullish on their team.
“If we keep building upon what we did last year against Wisconsin and how we finished really strong as an entire team offense and defense, we should be really, really good this year,” he said.
The Gophers have 78 percent of their production from last year returning this fall; that leads the Big Ten West.
“It’s hard not to look at the team that we have right now and say it’s not something special,” Coughlin said. “We have depth in a lot of positions, we have playmakers in a lot of different positions, offense and defense.
“As long as the offense and defense continue to get better throughout fall camp and keeps clicking, it’s going to be really special.”