Gophers rally for 20-13 win at Nebraska; Tanner Morgan leaves with injury

Running back Mohamed Ibrahim #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers scores against defensive lineman Nash Hutmacher #72 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium on November 5, 2022 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  ((Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota football team is leaving Nebraska with a come-from-behind 20-13 win over the Cornhuskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, and they might have a new quarterback for the remainder of the season.

Tanner Morgan missed the second half with what PJ Fleck labeled after the game as an "upper body injury" as the Gophers trailed 10-0 at the half. Morgan was 6-of-8 passing for 38 yards, and was sacked three times, including a hard hit at the end of the first half. He missed the Penn State loss two weeks ago in the concussion protocol.

Athan Kaliakmanis, Mo Ibrahim and a stout defense after the first quarter led the Gophers to their sixth win of the season (6-3, 3-3), fourth straight over Nebraska and bowl eligibility. It’s also Fleck’s first win in 33 tries when trailing by at least 10 points in a game.

"That’s a gutsy win by a really good football team, ours. It was tough, it was gritty, tested our character and I thought they passed the test. We had to grit, grind, fight, scratch, claw and especially when a lot of things weren’t going our way," Fleck said. "I’m just really proud of the resolve of our team, the courage of our team and the heart of our team. I think it showed."

Kaliakmanis, a redshirt freshman, finished 6-of-12 for 137 yards in the second half, helping lead the Gophers to four scoring drives and 20 straight points. With Kaliakmanis at quarterback, the Gophers had 269 total yards in the second half and more than six yards per play.

His performance gave Fleck a case to be the starter for the last three regular season games.

"I was really proud of Athan stepping in there. I thought he played outstanding, and he led our football team to victory," Fleck said.

After 36 carries last week, Ibrahim had 32 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. He also got his 17th straight 100-yard game. He wanted a 33rd carry to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Ibrahim appeared to get a first down with 2:25 to play, but the spot was reviewed and overturned. The Gophers were facing a 4th-and-1 near midfield, and Fleck sent the punting unit on the field. Ibrahim pleaded with Fleck to go for it, and the offense went back on the field. After a third thought, Fleck sent the punting unit back on. Fleck was asked about his decision post game.

"Which decision? The decision to punt, then go for it, then punt, then go for it and then punt again? Oh my goodness. I was ready to punt, all the signs say punt. Then there’s a guy who comes off the field and said, ‘We’re going for it! I got it!’ That’s Mohamed Ibrahim," Fleck said. "So then we’re going for it, and on the headset, there are two plays we want to call. Because we didn’t have a decisive decision, I have to make a call at some point. John Michael Schmitz death-stared me, but there wasn’t one call that was ‘this is it.’ If it was ‘this is it,’ plus Mo, let’s go. However, 90 yards is a lot harder to get in two minutes with no timeouts than 46 yards or whatever it was going to be. It worked out. One looks smart, the other one looks stupid, I get it."

Ibrahim was also asked about the sequence after the win.

"We thought we got it. We was looking for the first down and they called for the review. We got to the sideline and I thought it was a no-brainer. I thought we was going to go for it, just the way the game was flowing. You just know as an offense you’re capable of getting that first down," Ibrahim said. "He (Fleck) broke it down for me and I had to understand what the game looks like. We made the right decision."

Thomas Rush got a sack on Nebraska's final drive, and the Gophers sealed the win with a fourth down incompletion and turnover on downs. After allowing 10 points on the first two possessions, the Gophers forced the Cornhuskers into six straight punts, got an interception from Terell Smith and allowed a field goal before the final turnover on downs. Minnesota held Nebraska to 116 total yards in the second half, and the Cornhuskers were only 5-of-16 on third down for the game.

Nebraska starting quarterback Casey Thompson did not play due to injury, leaving the Gophers to guess between Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers.

"Joe Rossi made this statement up in the press box, "We might as well throw our game plan out the window right now.’ Just because of what we prepared for, what was on film not necessarily was exactly what we saw based on who they had on the field," Fleck said. "We were able, after those first three possessions, to settle down and we were confident again."

Daniel Jackson led Minnesota receivers with five catches for 88 yards. Michael Brown-Stephens had three catches for 27 yards, and Dylan Wright had two catches for 54 yards. The Gophers had just 31 total yards in the first half, and finished with 300 for the game. 

The Gophers are back home next Saturday, hosting Northwestern, which lost to Ohio State 21-7 on Saturday.