Buffalo shows grit, falls to the Golden Gophers in season opener
The PJ Fleck era has started in Minnesota. Fleck led his players in a pregame sprint out of the tunnel, with a vintage late-summer evening sky framing his first game as Minnesota’s coach.
The Gophers started fast, too, with Tyler Johnson’s 61-yard reception from Conor Rhoda — one of two first-quarter touchdowns.
The rest of the game was a grit-and-grind showdown between two teams who weren’t supposed to keep this game close.
The Golden Gophers would go on to beat the Buffalo Bulls 17-7, in a game that showed off talent on both sides.
The shining light for the Bulls in the loss has to be the play from sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson and linebacker Khalil Hodge. Jackson, who was thrown into the fire as a freshman last season, looked poised and like a QB who is only scratching the surface of his potential. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Jackson finished 22 for 42 for 211 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was accurate on many deep balls and would have better numbers if his receivers actually caught those accurate passes.
Hodge was all over the field, accumulating 20 tackles–the most by a Bulls player in nine years.
After finishing 2-10 in coach Lance Leipold’s second season with a freshman quarterback in Jackson, the Bulls are bound to be better this year. For a team that has produced only two winning seasons in 18 years at the FBS level, a competitive display like this can’t be discounted.
“We took a big step forward as a program in what we’re hoping to develop, as far as playing with a relentless type of attitude,” Leipold said.
“We’re all upset in the locker room,” Jackson said. “We didn’t come here to show up and play against Minnesota. We came here to win.”
The X-factor in the game has ties to Buffalo, as Antoine Winfield Jr. was the defensive force the Gophers needed to pull out the victory. He had seven tackles, a sack, a blocked field goal and two pass breakups and was literally all over the field for the Minnesota defense.
“Gosh, is he special,” Fleck said.
The Gophers just needed to win this game and get it out of the way, to reduce the pressure on their inexperienced quarterbacks and make sure Fleck wasn’t embarrassed with a loss against a lower-tier opponent in his Big Ten debut . Starting with the blocking up front, the offense has a lot of work to do.
Buffalo: The Bulls play at Army next weekend. The Black Knights are coming off an 8-5 season, their first winning record since 2010.
Minnesota: The Gophers ought to have a tougher time next weekend in their first visit to Oregon State in program history. The Beavers are 11-25 over the last three years but they played a competitive game in Minnesota last season, losing 30-23.