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Kirk Herbstreit: “There seems to be a real belief in what P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff are speaking"

11/29/2019, 7:00pm CST
By Daniel House

by: Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL)

When P.J. Fleck was hired as Minnesota’s new head coach in 2017, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knew it was only a matter of time before he changed the Gophers’ program. Herbstreit saw Fleck transform Western Michigan and lead the Broncos to a Cotton Bowl. The only question he had - how long would it take in Minnesota?

“To me, it wasn’t a matter of if he’d do it, it was more about when. Not being here, I don’t know the commitment from the athletic department until I’ve been here and seen what he’s done in the past couple of years. Because it’s one thing to be a great coach, but if you don’t have the support of the University, it’s next to impossible," Herbstreit said.

Now, with College Gameday in Minneapolis, Herbstreit had a chance to tour Minnesota’s new athletic facilities. He immediately witnessed all of the support from key administrators and officials. With the combination of Fleck’s energy and the University’s resources, Herbstreit is optimistic about the team’s future.

“Being here and seeing these facilities and you combine that with the energy of what P.J. Fleck brings to the tackle. And then by the way, they have some talent to go along with that. It’s only going to get better and better,” Herbstreit said. “There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic right now. Not just for this weekend or this year, but the future of what P.J. Fleck is creating.”

After being a co-host on College GameDay, Herbstreit will call Saturday's showdown between No. 8 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin. As he prepared for this week's game, Herbstreit noticed the Gophers’ confidence and belief in P.J. Fleck’s message.

“There seems to be a real belief in what P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff are speaking. And now that they have examples of what will happen if you buy into this, as a team, even though they lost a few weeks ago at Kinnick, I just think they’re very, very confident,” Herbstreit said.

Herbstreit has been impressed with Minnesota’s offensive balance and the stress it puts on defenses. He is also noticing how all of the skill players fit in the Gophers’ RPO system. However, after Minnesota’s 37-15 win over Wisconsin last year, Herbstreit knows the Badgers have extra motivation to steal Paul Bunyan’s Axe in 2019. When the ball kicks off, ESPN’s top college football analyst is particularly excited to see the battle up front.

“Here comes Wisconsin - in a bad mood, angry about last year’s game. Not just losing, but if you go back and watch that film, they got out-Wisconsin’ed by Minnesota. They got beat up front at the line of scrimmage. You know they’re coming in with a bad mindset,” Herbstreit said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be cold and wet, snowy, and icy. The big boys up front are going, to me, dictate who wins the game.”

Fowler ready to call a huge rivalry game

Broadcaster Chris Fowler will be calling his first game at the University of Minnesota on Saturday. He is the main voice of ABC’s Saturday Night Football, but is handling the 2:30 p.m. time slot this week. Fowler hosted ESPN College GameDay for 24 years and is aware of the energy this show will bring during its first visit to Minneapolis.

"It's the first chance for Minnesota fans to show what they're about. To show they're tough enough to go out in rain, sleet, snow, whatever is presented to them. [To] create an energy that is going to be seen by people around the country for the first time,” Fowler said. “The world will get a glimpse of a big GameDay environment here for the first time...it's always neat when you call a game, when you're a part of that moment for a program.”

As Fowler prepared for this game, he noticed Minnesota’s dynamic wide receivers, including Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. With Wisconsin’s defense allowing a high volume of explosive plays, Fowler indicated he will be watching this matchup closely.

“[They’re a] matchup nightmare for everybody. Bateman and Tyler present a lot of problems.” Fowler said. “I think college football comes down to how many talented guys can you put at skill positions vs. how many talented guys can they put out there to cover? If you’ve got two good cover guys and they have three good wide receivers, you’ve got a problem. I think that you can’t bracket both of these guys and still stop the run and deal with the RPO game - you just can’t do it from a schematic standpoint.”

Rece Davis has always believed in P.J. Fleck

A few years ago, College GameDay host Rece Davis had the chance to hear P.J. Fleck speak at an ESPN event. When the Gophers’ head coach left the stage, Davis told the entire crowd he thought Minnesota’s program would be on the map soon. Now, less than three years later, he’s not surprised to be hosting college football’s biggest show in Minneapolis. When Davis first started to watch Fleck, he was a believer.

Below is the full quote from ESPN’s Rece Davis about his belief in P.J. Fleck:

“I believe in him. I think he’s a terrific coach, who practices what he preaches. There are some coaches sometimes that have catch phrases or slogans, or whatever, and that’s what they are. I don’t get that sense with him. There’s a reason for the things that he does, and it’s not just, ‘I’m going to come up with something clever.’ He has a reason. This helps you focus, this helps motivate you to become better. This helps you stay in the moment and do the things that you need to do right now to improve. He understands that. That’s what I mean when I say he lives this stuff. It’s not just something that he said, ‘hey, how about if I say Row the Boat?’ This is part of who he was. It’s part of how he was developed. He understands how to reach players and make them play harder. Everybody, every coach, all of the people on Twitter who get mad and say, ‘he can’t coach.’ Those dudes know X’s and O’s like you can’t believe - inside and out. They all know X’s and O’s, all of them. Certainly some better than others. The key - can you get them to play? And he can get them to play and that’s why I believe in him.”

Here’s a link to the thread with full videos from Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler: https://bit.ly/37J9oQC

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