MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck prepared himself for a difficult conversation when he sat down during the offseason with Seth Green about switching positions.
Green was going to be the third-string quarterback, behind Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan. If he preferred to stay in his natural spot, he’d have Fleck’s blessing to transfer. Or he could put his agility, instinct and speed to better use than just the scout team and become a tight end.
“It didn’t take him long,” Fleck said.
Just in case Green needed any more reinforcement that his decision to switch was the right one for his career and for the Gophers, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore scored two touchdowns in the opener last week.
The powerful runs of 9 yards and 3 yards, both in the second quarter to help Minnesota roll past New Mexico State 48-10, came on direct snaps to Green in the Wildcat formation at his familiar place on the field. Not only will he be used this year at tight end, wide receiver and on special teams, but Green now has a couple of successful turns at quarterback on tape in case Annexstad and Morgan falter.
When the Gophers host Fresno State on Saturday night, a daunting Bulldogs defense that ranked 16th in the FBS in yards per game allowed in 2017 and returned seven starters now must account for Green in the game plan.
“I prayed about it a lot and talked to my family and stuff and just felt like I really wanted to help my team out, so whatever I could do to get on the field and use my God-given ability to help the team is something that I was down for,” said Green, who was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback out of East Ridge High School in Woodbury, a Twin Cities suburb. He played his senior season in Allen, Texas, before returning to Minnesota and redshirting in 2016.
The Wildcat possibility wasn’t raised until fall camp started last month.
“I was like, ‘Cool, whatever. Tell me what to do and I’ll run it,'” Green said.
With so little experience at the offensive skill positions this year for the Gophers, who were shut out in each of their last two games last year, Fleck and his staff have been forced to be creative to tap alternative sources of production. Green was first on the list, even though it meant giving up his glamorous position.
“That takes a special individual,” Fleck said, “and I give him a lot of credit for thinking big picture.”
Fresno State, which soared from 1-11 in 2016 to a 10-4 finish in coach Jeff Tedford’s first season in 2017 while reaching the Mountain West Conference championship game, dominated overmatched Idaho 79-13 at home last week in the opener.
The Bulldogs rushed for seven touchdowns and forced seven turnovers, but the star of the game was cornerback Jaron Bryant, who returned two blocked field goals for touchdowns in the second quarter. Only one team in FBS history, Louisiana-Lafayette in 2003, had even done that twice in one season.
THEY’RE SPECIAL, TOO
The Gophers shined on special teams in their opener as well. Antoine Winfield Jr. returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, when six defenders had a hand on him on the play. Sam Renner blocked a punt that set up one of two field goals made by Emmit Carpenter, who missed just once and made all six of his extra points. Jacob Herbers included a 51-yard punt among his five attempts.
Annexstad threw two touchdown passes to Tyler Johnson in his debut for Minnesota as just the second true freshman walk-on to start at quarterback in FBS history. His precision can clearly improve, but the confidence and poise he showed passed the first test.
“He’s very competitive, a very tough kid, a guy who stands in there. You can tell why he’s the guy,” Tedford said. “I think he brings a lot of that to the table.”
LET’S PLAY TWO
Minnesota and Fresno State have never met in football before, but they’ll stage the rematch in California on Sept. 7, 2019. The Bulldogs have three wins over Big Ten teams, at Wisconsin in 2001, at Illinois in 2009 and at home against Illinois in 2010, but they’ve lost nine straight games against Power Five conference opponents. Their last such victory was against Colorado in 2012.
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