The start of Minnesota’s 2023 season could not have been much more dramatic on Thursday evening.
The Golden Gophers, facing a 10-3 deficit heading into the final minutes of the fourth quarter, would force a pair of turnovers and capitalize on both, scoring 10 points over the final 2:23 to eke out a 13-10 win over Matt Rhule and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
It was the Minnesota defense that was the story of the game. The Golden Gophers forced four turnovers on the night, including two late in the fourth quarter, while keeping Nebraska to 295 total yards, including just 60 yards in the final 15 minutes.
With the Gophers trailing 10-3 with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Minnesota defensive back Justin Walley would punch the ball out of Nebraska tailback Anthony Grant’s hands, with Aidan Gousby recovering the fumble at the Gophers’ 47-yard line.
The ensuing possession wasn’t an easy one for the Gophers. They would work their way into the Nebraska red zone, but after a pair of misfired passes into the endzone and a short pass to Brevyn Spann-Ford broken up, the Gophers’ chances would come down to a 4th and 10 with just over two minutes to go.
Athan Kaliakmanis, who finished the game completing 24 of 44 passes, found a wide-open Daniel Jackson headed towards the sideline in the endzone. Kaliakmanis would slightly overthrow Jackson, but thanks to an incredible effort from the Kansas City native, dragging his backfoot while heading out bounds, the Golden Gophers would tie the game up at 10-10 following a Dragan Kesich extra point.
On Nebraska’s ensuing drive, the Cornhuskers would quickly pick up 25 yards over four plays before Cornhuskers quarterback Jeff Sims threw his third interception of the evening, forcing a throw into the middle of the field. Unfortunately for Sims, Tyler Nubin would be lurking, perfectly reading Sims’ pass and jumping the intended receiver for his second interception of the evening. Six plays and 22 yards later, Dragan Kesich would drill a 47-yard field goal to win the game for the Golden Gophers as time expired.
Outside the Gophers’ 10 points in the final minutes of Thursday night’s matchup, it was a rather forgettable effort from the Minnesota offense. They would total just 251 yards in the game, with 75 coming on those final two drives.
The Golden Gophers rushing attack was non-existent. On 25 rushing attempts, Minnesota totaled just 55 yards, an average of 2.2 yards per carry. Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler was the most effective tailback, totaling 41 yards on ten carries.
The passing game showed a bit more promise, though the pass protection, for the most part, was poor throughout the evening. Athan Kaliakmanis, on his 24-for-44 night, threw for 196 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Daniel Jackson was the star of the game offensively, with nine receptions for 68 yards and one touchdown. Additionally, Corey Crooms and Brevyn Spann-Ford had quality nights of their own, with seven receptions for 63 yards and five receptions for 45 yards, respectively.
Overall, it wasn’t a pretty night for P.J. Fleck’s Golden Gophers, but for a program in which the word “poised” was used to describe so much throughout the offseason, that poise was evident on Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium. There’s plenty to clean up for the Golden Gophers, but overall, it was another hard-fought and gutsy win for the program that has grown familiar with these types of wins over Fleck’s tenure in Dinkytown.
The Golden Gophers will be back on the field next Saturday against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. It will be another primetime matchup at Huntington Bank Stadium, with the game set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
Dylan Callaghan-Croley, GophersNation.com