The Gophers lost a game at home that they were widely expected to win. Or as we call that in Minnesota, “Christmas for Vikings avatar guys who want you to know how little they care and how dumb YOU are for caring.” My employer gives me 2 flex PTO days for it every year as a religious observance.
The theme of the day from a lot of the fans I interact with was “if”, specifically how things might have been different if something else had happened.
“If we call a different play on the 4th Down in the 1st Quarter.”
“If Mike Brown-Stephens catches that ball in the end zone.”
“If Braelen Oliver possesses the tipped pass.”
“If Terell Smith possesses his tipped pass.”
“If Mo Ibrahim had played.”
For Gophers fans of all generations, “if” has become a maroon and gold rosary, a mental comfort blanket that allows us to justify to ourselves that the bad things weren’t actually that bad, and if not for flukes we would have been right in our predictions. If only one more thing had turned our way. It’s a shared ritual we practice together several times annually.
“If we manage the clock better against Michigan in 2016.”
“If we remember how to take an intentional safety against Wisconsin in 2005.”
“If Lou Holtz had stayed.”
But those things did not happen. Those undiscovered countries are not our reality, however we try to insulate ourselves from it. What DID happen today was our offense was unprepared to play without Mo Ibrahim. Our offensive line showed deficiencies and vulnerabilities. Tanner Morgan was never able to get in rhythm. Jeff Brohm was highly motivated to break the Fleck Curse that has afflicted him since 2018, and his defense in particular did what they had to do to make that happen.
It's another datapoint in what I hope will not convert to a trend under the Fleck tenure: after a series of impressive wins comes a ranking, the associated media frenzy and increased fan attention. Fleck, and by extension others associated with the program, revel in the attention, and come out flat and apparently unprepared the next game. In 2019 it was the Iowa game after Penn State; I recall vividly how tired and unfocused P.J. Fleck appeared in media spots after beating #5 Penn State, and the coaches and team appeared to take on the same dizzy, wandering malaise in Iowa City the following weekend.
Things looked much the same today, and there are lessons to be taken from it for all of us. The most important are for the coaching staff, secondarily for the offense and special teams. The defense played well enough for most of the game to keep us in a position to win; you can’t ask much more than that, whatever happened in the last four minutes. Now there’s a much-needed bye week before going to meet Bert Bielema in Illinois, and a chance to get back on track.
For us who watch and spend out off-hours contemplating the next game and the future glory we hope awaits, it should be remembered that Purdue’s main purpose in the Big Ten of late is serving as a warning to others. They did this most notably against Ohio State in 2018; it turned out to be the Buckey's only loss. Today’s loss does not necessarily mean the West is lost, and it doesn’t mean Minnesota is actually bad. It means the Gophers have weaknesses to be dealt with, in scheme, physicality, and mentality.
There’s more football to play and more fun to be had if the appropriate lessons are taken, if the fire remains, if hope is not lost, if players stay healthy, if the fans keep showing up.