"You cannot look at this team and look at their record," Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck said of Nebraska at his Monday press conference. "This team could easily be 5-1, 4-2. Easily. They've lost on just strange oddities. If I would tell you stories of how they lost when you're watching these games, you'd be like 'no way.'"
Husker fans feel you, Fleck. The Northwestern game now exists as the ultimate example of that "no way" game in 2018, but Nebraska's first half of the season is mostly a list of missed opportunities.
That applies to both sides of the ball. Misses might weigh a little heavier on defense (I'd include penalties and unconverted takeaway opportunities in that category). Inconsistency might be the offense's primary problem at this point. The Huskers put together some great drives, but have too rarely put together great drives in sequence. There have been strange droughts, but most of Nebraska's best weapons remain on that side of the ball and it has Fleck's attention.
"This team is averaging close to 500 yards a game," he said. "If you think just taking a pill or hiring somebody flips it like that, that's not reality in 2018 with certain situations. But they're a very, very dangerous offensive football team."
After starting the season with three nonconference wins, including one over 5-1 Fresno State, the Gophers have dropped three straight to open conference play. Fleck has a team that's somewhat similar to Nebraska in that it's shown moments of strength and backed with some key breakdowns. Minnesota played relatively well in losses to No. 19 Iowa and No. 2 Ohio State. Minnesota didn't play particularly well in a loss to Maryland and a win over Miami (Ohio).
It's Year 2 for Fleck, but this Gopher team looks more like a Year 1 squad. The offensive and defensive two-deep includes 18 true or redshirt freshmen. ("I know where this will be one day," Fleck said Monday. Sound familiar?) Statistically speaking, Minnesota's defense is its best foot forward which should make for an interesting matchup on Saturday.
The Gophers are not an up-tempo team, but put Fleck behind a podium and he can go as fast as anyone. He's a waterfall of words. When asked what sort of challenges Nebraska wide receiver and Minnesota native JD Spielman presents, Fleck offered the following (read as quickly as possible to get the full waterfall effect):
"Everything. JD Spielman presents everything. He's fast, he's dynamic, he's explosive, he catches the ball well, he's got a great catch radius, he plays hard, they do a lot of things with him, they move him all over the field, he's got a tremendous center of gravity, he creates separation. He's a tremendous football player."
Spielman currently ranks third in the Big Ten at 89.5 receiving yards per game, and is the Huskers' most reliable weapon to this point. But . . .
"It's not just him," Fleck said. "It's Stanley Morgan. You've got him. You've got the quarterback [Adrian Martinez] where he's an incredibly dynamic runner. They've got a huge running back [Devine Ozigbo] who we played against. He's got speed, he's got power."
Fleck did also give credit to Nebraska's defense, saying it's "stout" in the front seven and "tackles well." Take that for what it's worth given some of the Huskers' numbers on that side of the ball.
But overall if you're a Nebraska fan feeling down about the Huskers' 0-6 start –– and you're willing to take Fleck's appraisal at face value –– he offered a pretty good pep talk on Monday.
The Grab Bag
- If you watched the open to the press conference above you may have noticed Fleck is mulling the return of running back Shannon Brooks. Brooks was arrested over the weekend on allegations of domestic violence against his male roommate.
- Seven football teams that are worse than their rankings.
- ESPN offers some bold predictions for the second half of the season, including a Nebraska win.
- ICYMI: New practice report, Lo-Down and recruiting notebook.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.