Star Freshman Emerges: 5 Takeaways From Gophers’ Victory over Eastern Michigan
The Minnesota Gophers, sporting all-black uniforms for the first time in program history, beat the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Saturday night in a game that finished with a lopsided 25-6 score. They won in classic PJ Fleck fashion, dominating time of possession 40 minutes to 20.
There were a lot of things to take away from tonight’s victory. Minnesota brought a run-heavy offensive attack that birthed a new star running back most Gopher fans had never heard of, entering the weekend.
Here are 5 takeaways from the win.
1. Fleck successfully stubborn running the ball
It was no secret, entering Saturday night. After rushing for just 2.2 yards per attempt in week 1 vs Nebraska, PJ Fleck was going to be stubborn about establishing the run vs a less-talented Eastern Michigan defense.
Ding, ding, ding. Even when the game was close during the first half, Minnesota’s offense ran the ball 24 times, vs just 8 pass attempts. That is not a typo.
As the Gophers’ lead grew in the 2nd half, PJ stuck even closer to his bread and butter. Running the football and controlling the clock. When time ran out on the 4th quarter, the Gophers had rushed 56 times for a total of 296 yards and 2 touchdowns. Athan Kaliakmanis threw just 15 (efficient) total passes.
2. Gophers’ Offense must improve near goal line
Minnesota may have won by double digits tonight but the final score did not reflect how dominant the Gophers were. They pulled away on the scoreboard in the 2nd half but Eastern Michigan shouldn’t have hung around for as long as they did.
The offense drove the ball within the Eagles’ 6-yard line in both of their first two drives of the game and only came away with three points. Then, they drove all the way down the field on their first drive of the 2nd half and, again, settled for a field goal from within the 5-yard line.
It didn’t matter tonight vs a lesser Eastern Michigan team but Minnesota will have to convert those drives into touchdowns vs Big Ten opponents, if they want to have any chance of winning the West or, dare I say, beating Michigan or Ohio State later this season.
3. Freshman (RB) Darius Taylor II is a future star
It took 1.25 games, but true freshman running back, Darius Taylor II, has officially arrived. On Saturday night, Fleck gave Taylor his chance and the teenager jumped all over it. And once Fleck & Co started feeding Taylor, it was very difficult to stop.
Darius got just two carries in the 1st quarter, then six carries in the 2nd. By the end of the night, he had racked up 193 rushing yards and a touchdown on 33 carries (5.8 YPC). But it wasn’t just the numbers Taylor put up, it was how he looked doing it. When you’ve watched a lot of football, you know a special talent when you see one. And Darius Taylor II is a future star.
4. Defense comes to play again
I mean, what is there to say about another solid performance by Joe Rossi’s defense. It’s become such a regular occurrence that it’s difficult not to take it for granted.
One week after allowing just 10 points (114 pass yards, 181 rush yards) vs Nebraska, the Gophers defense didn’t look past Eastern Michigan, allowing just 6 points on 152 total yards (71 pass yds, 81 rush yds). The Eagles failed to gain even one first down in the 2nd half.
Minnesota’s scoring defense has been in the national top-10, each of the past two seasons and they appear to be on their way to that same sort of success in 2023. Joe Rossi deserves to be a head coach but I hope he remains the Gophers defensive coordinator for as long as possible, instead.
5. Athan good when called upon
Do not look down on Minnesota QB Athan Kaliakmanis because of the Gophers’ lopsided run/pass ratio vs Eastern Michigan. The volume just wasn’t there. As mentioned earlier, PJ Fleck was stubbornly determined to win this game without relying on #8 throwing them to victory.
Still, Kaliakmanis scored one of the team’s two rushing touchdowns and finished an efficient 10/15 for 117 yards. He hit open receivers and made good decisions. Athan’s lone interception came on an on-target throw that hit Brevyn Spann-Ford right in the hands before popping out and into the hands of an Eagles defender.
PJ Fleck may have found his next star running back on Saturday but success in 2023 still hangs on the right arm of Athan Kaliakmanis.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan