FRESNO, Calif. – Gophers coach P.J. Fleck called watching safety Antoine Winfield Jr. snatch the game-saving interception in the end zone at Fresno State — a freaky replay of a year ago against the same team — “surreal.”
That wasn’t the only bizarre part of Saturday night. It wasn’t even the most peculiar event.
Fleck showed up to his postgame news conference after surviving 38-35 in double overtime missing one key wardrobe staple.
“It’s unprofessional, but they took my shoes,” Fleck said. “I do not know where they are.”
Apparently, that’s a “thing” for his players, Fleck said. After thrilling victories, they egg their coach to jump onto the celebration pile, which is just a ploy so they can try to steal his footwear. At Fresno State, they succeeded. But Fleck was determined to relocate the shoes to display on a shelf the team has for commemorating special wins.
No word on whether Fleck actually had to wear his black athletic socks all the way to the tarmac for the flight home. But sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan did let a clue slip that sophomore offensive lineman Blaise Andries might have one and might plan to display it on a personal wall of fame in his own room for perpetuity. Considering Andries is 6-6, 325 pounds, Fleck might just want to buy a new pair.
Another weird occurrence Saturday: how the Gophers even came out of that game 2-0 on the season with the number of brutal mistakes they made.
While big plays helped the Gophers steal the result — such as Winfield’s interception and sophomore receiver Chris Autman-Bell’s touchdown catch to force overtime — egregious errors nearly doomed them.
Fleck listed some of those after the game. Sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim’s fumble, senior defensive end Tai’yon Devers’ personal foul for a facemask, sophomore safety Jordan Howden’s holding call, sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan’s fumble, a missed tackle on a two-point conversion, a dropped snap, a muffed punt, so on and so forth.
Combine that with Week 1’s escape maneuver against FCS team South Dakota State, and the Gophers either have a deal with a deity in place or luck on their side.
“I don’t know if we always get out with a win, but we’re fortunate enough,” Fleck said. “It’s been two games. We’ve been tested. But that’s what the beginning of the season is about. Look all over the country. Many teams, there’s a lot of upsets.
“… Find a way to win, whether it’s by 40, whether it’s by three, whether it’s in overtime, whether it’s in regulation. You have got to find a way to win. And that’s what we’re teaching our players. And that’s what they’re learning. Because they easily could have lost that game.”
Maybe it was the exciting fashion in which the Gophers won the game, but the mood after the game felt much more celebratory than after the South Dakota State victory. Fleck and Morgan shared a long hug, exchanging big smiles while Morgan gave his coach props for his “good call” to go for Autman-Bell’s touchdown on fourth-and-13. Autman-Bell talked a mile a minute, just saying how crazy the game was.
Morgan kept referring to it as a battle, a physical matchup that tested the team’s maturity, forced units like the offensive line to be ready for war.
John Legend felt that way, too. That’s right, the Grammy-winning musical sensation made the trip to watch his nephew, freshman receiver Michael Brown-Stephens, and gave a postgame locker room speech to the team. Because why not make that night just slightly more unbelievable.
“Y’all fought hard. Y’all came into a hostile environment and won,” Legend said, per Brown-Stephens’ Instagram. “That was an incredible win.”