The Golden Gophers, with a 2-1 record, have scored only four touchdowns in their first three games and are averaging a paltry 17 points (including two points from a safety in the Eastern Michigan win). They have two games ahead to improve production before national championship contender Michigan comes to Huntington Bank Stadium on October 7.
Minnesota will have the most minimal of chances to hang with the Wolverines if the offense struggles like it did in home wins over Nebraska and Eastern Michigan, and yesterday’s embarrassment at North Carolina when the Tar Heels won 31-13. There’s not been enough efficiency with the offense other than the field goal kicking of Dragan Kesich who has converted on seven of eight attempts.
What the Gophers have done consistently is fail to score touchdowns inside the red zone. They have turned to first-year field goal specialist Kesich when unable to get six points. That reality may change in the next two games against opposition the Gophers should be able to handle, at Northwestern next Saturday and home against Louisiana on September 30. The 1-2 Wildcats are giving up 45.67 points per game, while 2-1 Louisiana is yielding 24.
Right now the Gophers have no identity offensively. Known for years as a program that pushes opponents around with its run game, Minnesota is trying to rediscover its former muscle. The Gophers averaged 207.5 yards rushing last season and had 33 touchdowns in 13 games. So far Minnesota is averaging 173.7 yards rushing, with three touchdowns.
In the last two games true freshman Darius Taylor has given the run game life and he looked improved yesterday not only running with power and speed but showing the patience to find openings like All-American predecessor Mo Ibrahim. He ran for 193 yards against Eastern Michigan and 138 versus the Tar Heels.
The offensive line, despite using replacements from last season, has often been okay in the first three games. There is enough talent under the superb direction of line coach Brian Callahan to expect continued improvement. One of the best developing stories will be true freshman Greg Johnson from Prior Lake who saw extensive playing time yesterday in a three guards rotation and he projects as an award-winning lineman before his college career ends.
But what hasn’t been okay is the passing game that hit a season low in yesterday’s loss. Receivers dropped passes and starting quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis threw too high and too low while missing targets. He completed just 11 of 29 passes for 133 yards, and the Gophers converted on only three of 12 third downs.
After the game the redshirt sophomore was highly critical of his performance and blamed himself for the loss, calling it probably the “worst game” he’s ever played. “…I came up very short. That falls on me,” Kaliakmanis said at a postgame news conference (YouTube).
Playing in heat and humidity, Kaliakmanis was one of multiple Gophers who had to briefly leave the game with cramps. His replacement, Cole Kramer, threw an interception in his one passing attempt.
The cramps weren’t an excuse for the Gophers losing the game, coach P.J. Fleck said on the Gopher Radio Network after the game. In preparation for playing in the weather the Gophers had turned up the heat in their indoor practice facility. Interestingly, Fleck said his team didn’t have full use of the facility last week but wouldn’t detail why. “We only got to practice in the indoor for half the week,” he said. “We just weren’t able to.”
The defense, the strength of the team in the 13-10 and 25-6 victories over Nebraska and Eastern Michigan, didn’t measure up in Chapel Hill with blown assignments that led to a 21-10 first half lead by the Tar Heels. The Gophers, who were bothered by the hurry up offense and Heisman hopeful pass-run skills of quarterback Drake Maye, gave up an uncharacteristic 519 yards and 31 points.
The defense did make adjustments, playing better in the second half but not only couldn’t the offense produce more than three points, it didn’t stay on the field long enough to keep the ball from going back to the potent Carolina offense. Out of character, too, was Minnesota losing the time of possession battle, 33:10 to 26:50.
While the offense didn’t execute anywhere near its potential, the play-calling was worthy of praise. The offense has new leadership in gameday play caller Greg Harbaugh Jr. who replaced Kirk Ciarrocca now at Rutgers. Not enough right calls seemed to be in place during the first two games but yesterday Harbaugh dialed up plenty of opportunities. The players just didn’t make good on them.
Fleck said during his postgame interview on the Gopher Radio Network that the Tar Heels and Minnesota are “evenly matched teams” while also talking about all the mistakes his Gophers made and faulting himself for not coaching better. “We’re a really good football team,” he said later at his news conference (YouTube).
Jordan Addison Plea Bargain This Week
Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick has a letter in today’s Pioneer Press about the “kid gloves” treatment given Vikings rookie WR Jordan Addison who in late July was arrested for driving his Lamborghini 140 miles per hour on Interstate 94 in St. Paul. Addison reportedly hasn’t faced much discipline from the Vikings or NFL, and the courts may be going in a similar direction.
“…Charged with misdemeanors of reckless driving and greatly exceeding the limit, he speedily cut a sweetheart deal with the compliant Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to plead guilty to speeding, while the reckless charge will be dropped,” Tanick writes in part of his letter. “The offense, if the arrangement is approved by a Ramsey County District Court judge, will be treated as a petty misdemeanor, a non-criminal offense equivalent to walking a dog without a leash.
“His punishment: losing his license for the duration of the football season and a fine of $686, (which is) pocket change that he should easily be able to pay from his nearly $7 million signing bonus as part of his $13+-million-dollar four-year Vikings contract.
“The prosecutorial authorities will probably defend their lenity as being standard for first-time offenders like Addison. But, if that’s so, then they need to re-think their templates for hazardous conduct of this type.
“The plea bargain is still subject to approval by a judge, who is scheduled to hear it this week. …”
Tanick, a journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota, Stanford law graduate and longtime sports fan, questions whether the celebrity status of Addison and the Vikings is influencing the case of the 2023 first round draft choice. “It makes one wonder how a person of lesser renown would have been treated for similar aberrant behavior in Minnesota’s form of dual-track injustice,” Tanick wrote at the end of his letter.
The law firm of Meyer Njus Tanick is a Sports Headliners advertiser.