The Gophers faced fourth-and-1 at the Eastern Michigan 2-yard line on their opening possession last Saturday. They tried a little deception.
Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis faked a handoff and rolled out on a naked bootleg. The defense wasn't fooled, and Kaliakmanis was tackled for a 2-yard loss.
The play prompted grumbling on social media, in the press box and presumably in the stands at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Why not shove the ball down their throats up the middle? Why not try a pass to 6-foot-7 tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford?
The moment served as Greg Harbaugh Jr.'s unofficial welcome to play-calling duties. No coaching job in football — heck, maybe sports — is subjected to more criticism and second-guessing than offensive play-caller.
Harbaugh has handled that job for two games as the new co-offensive coordinator (Matt Simon is the other co-OC), and the script so far could be entitled "The Tale of Two Extremes."
Kaliakmanis threw 44 passes against Nebraska in the opener, the first Gophers quarterback to attempt 40 passes in a game under head coach P.J. Fleck.
The Gophers had 56 rushes vs. Eastern Michigan in a game plan that Fleck acknowledged was intentionally one-dimensional by his request.
The Gophers won games both ways, but players and coaches agree that neither formula is ideal.
"We've got to put it all together and be balanced," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh is the one tasked with calling plays, but game plans are a collaborative process. Fleck admitted this week that he "interjected probably more than I have ever" on the headset during the Eastern Michigan game.
Fleck said that wasn't a criticism or a knock against his new play-caller. He wasn't happy with the running game against Nebraska and was hellbent on fixing it. He wanted to run the ball endlessly to build confidence and a physical mentality.
"I had to do something as a head football coach to instill something in that moment and in that game," Fleck said.
Harbaugh agreed with his boss. He wanted to make a point with his play calls too.
Their premise made sense but only as an outlier. The offense's potential still revolves around Kaliakmanis' passing. Going back to the old way of being run-centric cannot be the recipe.
To that end, Harbaugh gave an interesting answer when asked to define the most challenging part of being a play-caller.
"Getting the quarterback into the flow of the game," he said.
Harbaugh said he's mindful of finding a throw or sequence of plays that gets Kaliakmanis into a rhythm. That context indicates that Harbaugh, who is also the quarterbacks coach, will be intentional in his play-calling about nurturing the passing game.
"The ultimate guy that you have to be able to get comfortable within the game is the quarterback," he said.
Kaliakmanis described Harbaugh's demeanor during games as "calm, cool and collected."
"He reminds me a lot of myself," the sophomore QB said. "No matter what the situation is, he's always calm."
Informed of that comment from his quarterback, Harbaugh said: "Athan did? I appreciate that."
Harbaugh, 36, calls himself "intense by nature," particularly during training camp. He said he coaches differently based on the time of the year. He tries to maintain a more relaxed tone during the season, especially on gameday.
"As the week goes on," he said, "I want the guys to be able to see that, all right, if I'm calm, then I know that the game plan is in the right spot. If they see me as being anxious or nervous, then how are they going to be able to play? How are they going to be able to execute under the pressure of the situation?"
Harbaugh himself likely will feel some extra emotion in Saturday's game at North Carolina. He grew up in Raleigh, and many of his family members still live in the area.
"We go back every summer to visit," he said. "Taking a random visit in September this year."
Funny line, but his visit won't be incognito. A play-caller's work is always on display for outside observers to see and critique.