MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota football team is off to a 1-0 start after a 13-10 win over Nebraska last Thursday night to open the 2023 season against Nebraska under the lights at Huntington Bank Stadium.
The Gophers trailed 10-3 in the fourth quarter before Athan Kaliakmanis hit Daniel Jackson for a 13-yard touchdown on 4th-and-10, on one of the more incredible plays you’ll see this season. Tyler Nubin then came up with his second interception of the night, which set up the game-winning field goal for Dragan Kesich.
This week, Minnesota hosts Eastern Michigan Saturday night for its first non-conference game. The Eagles are 1-0 after 33-23 win over Howard University. They finished 9-4 last season after beating San Jose State in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
P.J. Fleck spoke with reporters Monday about the win over Nebraska, and gave an early look at Eastern Michigan.
"Got a heck of an opponent coming in here. Won nine games last year, won their bowl game and I think is one of the best-coached teams in college football that doesn’t get talked about enough. Chris Creighton is one of the best coaches in the country and what he’s done at Eastern Michigan hasn’t been done in forever," Fleck said. "We’re going to play a really good football team coming in here Saturday night."
CHANGING OF THE GUARD OFFENSIVELY?
The Gophers had a new-look offense against Nebraska, with Sean Tyler and Bryce Williams combining for 16 carries and 55 yards of their 24 total rushing attempts. Kaliakmanis was 24-of-44 for 196 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Gophers didn’t pass that many times in any game last season. That’s where the philosophy changes with players like Brevyn Spann-Ford, Daniel Jackson, Corey Crooms Jr. and Lemeke Brockington among the receiver options.
"If we have to do that all year, we’ll have to do that all year. It wouldn’t surprise me with this team, we have way more playmakers than we did," Fleck said.
TRE’VON JONES STEPS UP IN SECONDARY
Behind Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley in the secondary, there’s a lot of new faces playing big roles. One of them is Tre’Von Jones, a graduate transfer out of Elon. He came up with an interception in the end zone late in the first half that prevented Nebraska from getting on the scoreboard.
He also led the Gophers’ defense with nine tackles.
"The minute Tre got here, you’d think Trey was here five years. He was already hanging around the Walley’s and the Brevyn’s and they were already connected. You say alright, that guy must be a really good egg," Fleck said. "That group just took him in and they were hanging out. He’s a great kid with an infectious personality, and just loves football."
LINEBACKERS STEP UP WITHOUT CODY LINDENBERG
When the Gophers released their availability report two hours before kickoff, starting linebacker Cody Lindenberg was out. Fleck said postgame he suffered a leg injury in practice, but should return soon. Without Lindenberg, Devon Williams and Maverick Baranowski got their chance to step up. Baranowski missed one tackle that went for a 26-yard gain for Jeff Sims, but finished with seven tackles. Williams added three, and Ryan Selig had two.
Without the heart of their defense, the Gophers held strong.
"That’s part of cultural sustainability. You saw a lot of people out there that were prepared for their opportunity. That’s what a team does," Fleck said. "There’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be injuries, I thought they handled that really well."
EASTERN MICHIGAN’S DANGEROUS SPECIAL TEAMS
Eastern Michigan comes to Minnesota featuring an exceptional special teams unit, one that came up with two touchdowns against Howard. Jaylon Jackson took a first quarter kickoff 84 yards for a score, and Hamze El-Zayat took a second quarter kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Two kick return touchdowns from different players in the same game has Fleck on edge.
"Any time you have two returns in a game for a touchdown, that’s not by accident. They’re good at it, Fleck said. "When you have two guys return a kick each, that’s very rare."