Gophers talk being underdogs at North Carolina, defending Drake Maye

The University of Minnesota football team hits the road for the first time this season on Saturday, and it’s against a ranked opponent in a Power Five conference.

The Gophers face North Carolina, for the first time in three games, they’re underdogs against the No. 20-ranked Tar Heels. Gophers’ players said Wednesday they’re mostly focused on themselves heading into their toughest non-conference test. North Carolina enters the game 7.5-point favorites.

"We’re really not focused on whether or not we’re the underdog. I didn’t even know that, to be honest," quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis said. "We’re just focused on going there and playing our best. Doing what we do best, we’re just focused on each other. We’re ready."

The Tar Heels are 2-0 after beating South Carolina 31-17 two weeks ago. Last Saturday, they needed double overtime to get past Appalachian State, 40-34. Nathan Boe says none of that matters as the Gophers head to Chapel Hill.

"It’s another opponent and every team is a good team. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we always say we’ve got to play ourselves. It’s always about us and accepting the challenge no matter if it’s home or away. It’s just another challenge and it’s the mindset of the whole team that this is an opportunistic schedule," Boe said. "Every week is going to be a new challenge, so it doesn’t matter if they’re ranked, unranked, one win, 10 wins, we’re ready to just dive head-first into it."


A game against North Carolina means facing Drake Maye, one of the top quarterbacks in college football. He’s projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL Draft next April, and among the top quarterbacks taken. Kaliakmanis said he keeps an eye on the top talent, including Maye and USC’s Caleb Williams.

Maye has 477 yards and two touchdowns in two games so far. He was the ACC Offensive Player of the year last season, with 38 passing touchdowns.

"I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a great player. He’s earned all the recognition he’s getting. I definitely take in some things from his game," Kaliakmanis said.

It’s the biggest test the Gophers will have defensively in the non-conference. They got Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims to turn the ball over three times in Week 1, then held Eastern Michigan to four total yards and no first downs in the second half last week.

Defensive back Justin Walley is embracing the challenge of facing Maye.

"No matter which week it is, that’s the mentality is we’ve got a good defense and we’ll play with the best of our ability to stop them. It’s just another week," Walley said.

It’s another test for defensive coordinator Joe Rossi. His defense currently ranks No. 8 nationally, giving up 223.5 yards per game. They’re No. 3 in the country in passing defense and 10th in scoring defense.

"It’s a chance to go compete against a good program in a good conference. They’re a top-25 team, they recruit top-25 year in and year out, it’s an opportunity go measure where we are as a defense against a quality opponent," Rossi said.


P.J. Fleck made no secret about running the football in Week 2 after the Gophers ran for just 55 yards against Nebraska. They ran for 296 against Eastern Michigan on 56 attempts, with 193 yards coming from freshman Darius Taylor.

Fleck said multiple times he was in the headset of his coordinators throughout the game, and they had to instill the mindset in players to run the football. It’s a mentality, and center Nathan Boe said players got the message.

"Rushing for almost 300 yards, I think it got across that we can run the ball. This is the next right step for us an offense to know that we need to run the ball," Boe said.

Offensive play-caller Greg Harbaugh said it comes down to being more physical and consistent at the line of scrimmage.

"You win games up front. If we’re not efficient up front and we’re not physical, it’s going to be hard to win a lot of games. I think we did that. We have to have that every week," Harbaugh said.