Athan Kaliakmanis is the Future of Gopher Football; Let Him Cook

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Athan Kaliakmanis entered the 2023 season as the undisputed starting quarterback for a Minnesota Gophers offense that is built to throw the football and, in their opening 13-10 victory on Thursday night vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they proved just that.

The running game was putrid, averaging a measly 2.2 yards per carry. Part of that can be attributed to poor interior line play, but we’ll get to that later. No matter the cause, it became clear that PJ Fleck and play-caller, Greg Harbaugh Jr., would have to rely on Kaliakmanis’ right arm to win the 2023 opener.

PJ Fleck let Athan Kaliakmanis cook vs Nebraska

And to PJ’s credit, he gave his redshirt sophomore QB1 the keys and let him drive, something the head coach was unwilling to do, through six seasons in Minnesota.

Athan threw 44 passes on Thursday vs the Huskers, by far the most any quarterback has thrown for a Fleck-coached Gophers team. In fact, Kaliakmanis’ 44 attempts DOUBLED (or more) Minnesota’s single-game passing attempt totals from 17 of 26 games in 2021 and 2022.

1448/31/23Athan Kaliakmanis (24/44, 196 Yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)Nebraska13-10 (W)
23711/30/19Tanner Morgan (25/37, 296 Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT)Wisconsin17-38 (L)
33611/16/19Tanner Morgan (25/36, 368 Yds, 1 TD)@ Iowa19-23 (L)
4338/30/18Zack Annexstad (16/33, 220 Yds, 2 TD)New Mexico St.48-10 (W)
43310/6/18Zack Annexstad (17/33, 218 Yds, 3 TD, 3 INT)Iowa31-48 (L)
43311/13/20Tanner Morgan (16/33, 167 Yds, 1 TD, 2 INT)Iowa7-35 (L)
73211/17/18Tanner Morgan (19/32, 197 Yds, 1 TD, 2 INT)Northwestern14-24 (L)

Athan’s statline vs Nebraska isn’t going to launch him into any heisman trophy conversations or put him on the radar of NFL scouts. And yes, the redshirt sophomore made his fair share of mistakes, including an ugly interception that killed one of the best Gopher drives of the night.

But that’s all to be expected, when you put the fate of your program in the hands of a budding young QB. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. If you watched the game, though, you saw a completely different offense, with Kaliakmanis at the helm. An offense that fully trusts its QB1 to throw it to success.

Athan’s cannon is real.

And we saw, throughout the opener on Thursday, why Fleck has changed his offensive philosophy in order to lean more heavily on the right arm of Athan Kaliakmanis, a cannon that was on display throughout the win. A few throws stick out, including this rifle on the run to new WR, Elijah Spencer, on 3rd and 9.

You don’t have to watch Athan play quarterback for very long before realizing the Minnesota Gophers may have a weapon under center that the program hasn’t seen since Adam Weber started all four years for former head coach, Glen Mason, from 2007-2010.

There will be Athan Kaliakmanis growing pains we’ll have to live with throughout this season but, if the interior offensive line can improve so he stays healthy, and PJ Fleck continues to let him learn from his mistakes, I’m confident fans will be in for quite an offensive treat over the next 2-3 football seasons.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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