MINNEAPOLIS — A consistent, optimistic and forward-looking refrain has emanated from the University of Minnesota football team’s locker room after letdown home losses over the past two seasons.
“Everything is still in front of us,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in the wake of the 20-10 upset loss to Purdue on Homecoming on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.
A variation of that message was shared after 2021 losses to Bowling Green in late September and Illinois in nearly November . It’s true, the 2022 season is only 42% done and the Big Ten schedule is only 22% complete.
There are plenty of twists and turns coming over the next eight weeks. But there is no doubt Minnesota’s inability to run the ball against the Boilermakers and the mistakes the Gophers made in all phases will serve as a big opportunity lost.
The defeat knocked the Gophers (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) from their spot at No. 21 in the Associated Press poll all the way out of the rankings on Sunday.
If Minnesota would have won Saturday, it would have held sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West Division at 2-0. Instead, there is a six-way tie at 1-1. Only Wisconsin is 0-2.
Like Minnesota’s loss to Illinois a year ago, defeats like Saturday can come back to haunt programs that barely miss out on making it to the Big Ten Championship Game. That’s where the Gophers still aspire to end up in December.
“(We) just learn from this film and move on and know that what we plan on, what we have in mind and our goals as a team are still in front of us,” middle linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said Saturday. “Our response is going to be huge and critical moving forward.”
The Gophers are off this week, then travel to play Illinois on Oct. 15. The Illini beat up on the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema returned to Madison with a physical, run-heavy offensive and run-stuffing defensive approach that has made the Badgers so difficult to stop over the years.
The Illini are one poor possession at the end of a 23-20 loss to Indiana on Sept. 2 from being 5-0.
Fleck insisted Saturday that he felt Purdue was close to being 5-0 itself, if not for costly mistakes in a loss to No. 22 Syracuse and a season-opening 35-31 defeat to No. 10 Penn State.
“Listen, nobody is perfect,” Fleck said. “Even if you have a perfect record, you’re still not perfect. We got beat (Saturday) and we are going to learn from it and we are going to respond. That is what our team will do. That is what our coaches will do. That’s what I’ll do. That is what everybody in the building will do.”
“We are going to come in (Sunday) and are going to learn from the film,” Sori-Marin said. “I know there is a tremendous amount to improve from, and a bye week is a perfect time. We have a little bit of extra time. We can go back to the (individual drills) and the fundamental aspect of the game. And kind of just reset.”
With a logjam of six teams in the Big Ten West division sitting 1-1 and no clear favorite to yet emerge, teams in the division could beat up on each other over the final eight weeks.
That means coming out ahead in crossover games against the East might be a deciding factor in who becomes champion. Minnesota is 1-0 with a 34-7 win over Michigan State on Sept. 24, but that victory doesn’t look so impressive now after the Spartans lost their third straight game on Saturday, 27-13, at Maryland.
West teams are 3-5 vs. East teams so far this season.
Here’s the remaining crossover games for West programs:
- 1-0 with 34-7 win at Michigan State
- Remaining schedule: at No. 10 Penn State, Oct. 22; vs. Rutgers, Oct. 29
- 0-1 with a 23-20 loss at Indiana
- Remaining schedule: vs. Michigan State, Nov. 5; at No. 4 Michigan, Nov. 19
- 0-1 with a 35-31 loss vs. No. 10 Penn State
- Remaining schedule: at Maryland, Oct. 8; at Indiana, Nov. 26
- 1-1 with a 27-10 win at Rutgers; 27-14 loss vs. No. 4 Michigan
- Remaining schedule: at No. 3 Ohio State, Oct. 22
- 1-0 with a 35-21 win vs. Indiana
- Remaining schedule: at Rutgers, Oct. 7; at No. 4 Michigan, Nov. 12
- 0-1 with a 17-7 loss to No. 10 Penn State
- Remaining schedule: at Maryland, Oct. 22; vs. No. 3 Ohio State, Nov. 5
- 0-1, with 52-21 loss at No. 3 Ohio State
- Remaining schedule: at Michigan State, Oct. 8; vs. Maryland, Nov. 5
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