P.J. Fleck could not decide on a starting quarterback after all of spring workouts and all of fall camp. One game didn’t settle matters either.
“I don’t know if one outperformed the other,” Fleck said.
The quarterback platoon of Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft offered a mixed bag Thursday, with one costly mistake that Fleck described as “catastrophic” and brought back haunting reminders of last season.
Rhoda started the game, Croft basically ended it, but neither distinguished himself enough to secure the job outright after sharing duties in a 17-7 victory against Buffalo at TCF Bank Stadium.
The “co-starter” arrangement looks like it will stick a while longer.
“I thought they managed and handled the game almost probably better than I expected,” Fleck said.
Rhoda completed 12 of 21 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown with one killer interception.
Croft completed seven of 11 passes for 63 yards, along with 32 yards rushing.
Neither delivered a definitive performance that made you say, that’s their guy. The Gophers running game mostly sputtered too, which was more concerning.
“Nothing was able to persuade me to [say], ‘Well, I’m going to have to play that guy more,’ ” Fleck said.
“I hope all of you can see the reason why the battle turned out the way that it did.”
Hopefully, clarity comes at some point.
Rhoda zipped a 13-yard completion to tight end Brandon Lingen on the first play, a play call that showed Fleck has a sense of humor. Many of us would’ve bet the mortgage that they would start the game with a handoff to either Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks.
Fleck zagged instead.
On the second series, Rhoda saw Tyler Johnson cutting across the middle and threw a little high. Johnson jumped to grab the pass, slipped a tackle and outran the secondary for a 61-yard touchdown.
The Gophers completed only one pass that covered 60 yards last season. Johnson’s touchdown catch also was their longest since 2012, a span of 57 games. Those statistics underscore the futility on display in recent years.
Rhoda played the first three series, then it was Croft’s turn for two series. Then Rhoda, then Croft, and so on.
Fleck vowed to follow a predetermined script, not his emotion, in handling playing time for his quarterbacks, which is interesting because Fleck’s emotions seem to flow like Niagara Falls.
“It was exactly how we mapped it out,” he said.
Constant shuffling could disrupt rhythm and flow, but neither quarterback seems ready to stake claim to the job yet.
The Gophers used a hurry-up pace when Croft got his first action, and that produced a 10-play scoring drive.
One of Croft’s best moments came on his second series. On third-and-6, he spotted something at the line that he didn’t like.
He directed his linemen to make sure they were on the same page with their protection.
Croft took the snap, rolled to his right and found Johnson along the sideline for an 8-yard completion. That might seem routine, or expected for a Big Ten quarterback, but both quarterbacks must prove they can handle those kinds of situations.
Rhoda gave the offense a spark late in the first half by connecting with Johnson repeatedly in a bang-bang-bang sequence.
Rhoda escaped pressure and hit Johnson for a 17-yard completion. Then a 22-yard completion. Then a 14-yard completion on third down. Then a 19-yard completion.
Just when you thought, hey, they found something …
On third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Rhoda underthrew Lingen in the end zone and was intercepted with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the half.
Fleck indicated Rhoda made a bad read.
Rhoda admitted he got fooled.
Those lost points ultimately didn’t cost the Gophers, but that play demonstrated inevitable growing pains that will occur for both quarterbacks.
Croft started the second half, but Fleck played Rhoda extensively in the second half, making good on his promise. He didn’t let emotion influence his script.
“Now we’ve got to ask them to do more, and we will,” Fleck said.
That goes for the entire offense.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org