EAST LANSING – In 2013 Michigan State opened its season with a visit from Western Michigan and its relatively unknown first-year coach, 32-year-old PJ Fleck.
He ended his regular season by defeating Minnesota on the day the Spartans snatched a berth in a Big Ten title match.
Nine years later, both Minnesota and Flick are finally back at Spartan Stadium for the first time since that season. And this time, they do it together; Flick became the Minnesota coach in 2017 and is now in his sixth season at the helm.
And if none of the Minnesota players knew what it would be like to play at Spartan Stadium, given the nearly nine-year hiatus, Flick could tell.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment, we know that,” Flick said Monday during his weekly press conference. “It’s a very traditional football team, they have a big fan base, and a great stadium. We know it’s going to be high and we’ll be ready for that.”
Flick also spent the week showing his players what it would be like to play at Spartan Stadium.
On his Tuesday weekly radio show, Flick described gopher’s practice which he said was one of the most chaotic practices of his tenure. It featured loud noises, a game clock shortened by 10 seconds and other diversions meant to distract its players.
“If you came to rehearsal today, you would be sitting here exhausted, ready to drink a little beer just to settle in. It was one of the most chaotic, organized practices,” Flick said.
After making a name for himself in Kalamazoo by taking the Broncos to the Cotton Bowl in 2016, Fleck left for Minnesota, where he went 38-23 in parts of six seasons. That includes a 3-0 start to the year as the Gophers outperformed their opponent 149-17.
But this record came up against the lowest-rated Power 5 chart on Sagarin.com. So while those wins featured a rushing Gopher offensive led by Mo Ibrahim and a defense that gave up a total of just 17 points, Flick said going to Michigan State would present a new challenge. Hence the chaos practices.
“We’re going into a hostile environment, so we need to create that when we’re training,” Flick said. “This is the pressure of the situation, and I think that’s what this team has to keep doing. Under the pressure of the situation can we do that? I hope they can.”
Meanwhile, Michigan State is exiting Washington’s 39-28 loss. But that setback doesn’t stop the prolific Flick from rushing into a team that will present Gopher’s toughest test yet.
“They have a great abundance, narrow ends that can clog and are incredibly sporty which makes hunting intimidating,” Flick said. “They have a quarterback who has played a lot of football and has a lot of moxie who has great leadership, great control in attack, plays with incredible passion and passion and he really is the heart of this team,” Flick said.
“When you look at the Washington game, it was just a few streaks early on where they were late. If it wasn’t about a few streaks or doing things, it’s interesting how this game will turn out.”