Gophers’ P.J. Fleck upset by players’ muscle cramps in 31-13 loss to N.C.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — P.J. Fleck almost bit his tongue after the Gophers’ 31-13 loss to North Carolina on Saturday.

The Gophers head coach was asked about a handful of players dealing with muscle cramps, including quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, running back Darius Taylor and cornerback Justin Walley, vital contributors who each missed playing time as the U tried to mount a comeback in the third quarter.

“I used to be able to say things like, ‘That’s inexcusable’ and stuff like that,” Fleck said. “I don’t — we can’t be cramping up. There is a reason why we prepare the way we prepare, the way we have to prepare. And if we don’t prepare that way, that’s what happens. It’s unfortunate.”

Texas Christian coach Sonny Dykes said that he felt a few of his players suffering from muscle cramps played a role in TCU’s 45-42 loss to Colorado in the Horned Frogs’ season opener om Sept. 2.

“Guys started cramping at the end of the game,” Dykes lamented. “That is something that we’ve got to get figured out. Somehow (Colorado’s star two-way player) Travis Hunter managed to play every snap and we had guys that couldn’t. We take a lot of pride in our strength and conditioning program and nutrition, and it didn’t show up.”

Fleck said his players having those issues against the Tar Heels “ultimately falls on me. I’ve got to do a better job of that. I’ve got to figure out what we didn’t do this week. But way too many (players with cramps). They were coming off at halftime. I didn’t understand that one. Yeah, just too many guys.”

The issue clearly irked Fleck, who believes players can and should hydrate better to avoid having issues on warm days. It was sunny and 82 degrees during Saturday’s kickoff at Kenan Stadium.

In the season opener, Walley, the Gophers’ top cornerback, also had cramps during the 13-10 win over Nebraska on Aug. 31. But he returned to force a vital fumble in the U’s comeback.

The Gophers were outplayed in a 31-13 loss Saturday, but the brief absences of those three players at a critical juncture played a role in the defeat.

The Gophers were down 24-13 in the middle of the third quarter but were driving in North Carolina territory. Kaliakmanis underthrew an open Le’Meke Brockington on a deep crossing route, then left the game.

The U converted on a fourth and 1, with Taylor, returning from cramps, getting the first down. With Kaliakmanis out, backup QB Cole Kramer threw a bad pass to Daniel Jackson, and North Carolina intercepted it to kill a promising drive.

Kaliakmanis returned to the game, but the Gophers could get no closer than that moment he missed. The redshirt sophomore was making his eighth career start, and he completed only 38 percent of his passes (11 of 29) for 133 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.

“I just got to hydrate better,” Kaliakmanis said. “Cramps — that really doesn’t matter; it didn’t affect my play because I was playing bad regardless.”

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