P.J. Fleck heard Gophers fans’ boos Saturday and wanted to respond

P.J. Fleck answered the question before it could be asked on Saturday night.

On his own accord, the Gophers head coach explained why he let more than 30 seconds run off the clock just before halftime of the U’s 27-12 win over Michigan State.

Trailing 6-3, Minnesota had the ball and two timeouts at the Spartans’ 20-yard line with one minute, 12 seconds remaining in the first half. After Jordan Nubin’s run for 3 yards, the play was whistled over with 54 seconds left, but Fleck didn’t call timeout until only 35 seconds remained.

Some fans at Huntington Bank Stadium booed.

“The crowd wants some urgency” in the Gophers’ offense, Big Ten Network commentator Jake Butt said.

BTN play-by-play man Cory Provus was more direct: “Too much time came off the clock.”

After the stoppage, Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis was sacked on second down before he found receiver Daniel Jackson for a 22-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left. After that, Michigan State ran the ball for 10 yards on its only play before the half.

“Just before you ask me, I’m doing everything I can to see both sides of everything,” Fleck said. “I’d love to educate everybody who buys a ticket. I appreciate everybody buying a ticket.

“I can’t give them the ball back with time (on the clock).”

Fleck did a similar thing just before halftime in the loss to Michigan three weeks ago, and he gave a similar answer afterward. But the second-ranked Wolverines are not the same thing as the struggling Spartans.

“We still had a timeout,” Fleck said Saturday. “I want to bring it down under 30 seconds. That is plenty of time in football with a timeout. That’s like 20 minutes. You could go get a soda and come back and we are probably still there.”

A counter argument is the Gophers offense had struggled for much of the first half against the Spartans. Their first five drives ended this way: fumble, fumble, punt, punt and blocked field goal. The U might have needed every single second to score before halftime.

“As good as your defense has been, you got to tell your team we could score a touchdown,” Butt said. “Got to be thinking touchdown.”

Like the Michigan game, they were thinking touchdown and were successful in both instances.

That’s part of the reason this wasn’t a bigger issue Saturday. The Gophers scored a touchdown not only before the half but were in control for the overwhelming majority of the second half to secure their second-straight win.

With the win, the Gophers (5-3 3-2 Big Ten) moved into a first-place in the Big Ten West Division with Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. With wins against them earlier in the season, Minnesota holds tiebreakers over the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers, while the U plays Wisconsin in the regular-season finale two days after Thanksgiving.

The Badgers lost their one-game division lead Saturday with a 24-10 loss to to No. 3 Ohio State in Madison, Wis.

With the victory over the Spartans, the U also moved to one win away from bowl eligibility with four games remaining.

Illinois (3-5, 1-4) is up next in Minneapolis next Saturday. While there might be a difference of opinion with some of the fanbase, Fleck wanted thank them for coming out.

“I just appreciate everybody being here and cheering as loud as they did,” Fleck added. “Our home crowd really means a lot to us. It was a good team win, a good family win. It was an excited locker room in there.”

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