Minnesota Gophers Can’t Pass (Again)

NCAA Football: Minnesota at North Carolina
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Gophers went to Chapel Hill this weekend and laid a dud against the North Carolina Tar Heels, dropping their record to 2-1 on the season. No, not in basketball; on the football field.

After two games vs teams with anemic offenses of their own, the highly touted Gopher defense found a formidable foe in week 3. Drake Maye threw for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns, though he did throw just as many interceptions. When time eventually ticked down to 00:00, the game was a 31-13 blowout.

Minnesota Gophers inept through the air yet again

This loss isn’t on the defense, though. Far from it. The blame Saturday falls on the Gophers (once again) inept passing attack. Athan Kaliakmanis, who I thought was the QB savior, was terrible. He struggled to hit receivers in the first half and then hurt himself in the 3rd quarter because he doesn’t know how to slide.

His final line was worse than I made it sound: 11/29 (39%), 133 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT — Cole Kramer, Minnesota’s QB2, entered the game for a half series and threw one pass, an interception. No matter who was throwing the football, it was ugly.

This was meant to be a blog with multiple takeaways from today’s matchup between the Gophers and Tar Heels. But the further along the game got, the more clear it became that there is only one major reason why Minnesota lost on Saturday. They can’t pass… again.

Can’t blame defense or running game

Sure, the defense gave up over 400 yards of passing offense but they were also on the field for 75 plays vs one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft. While I didn’t expect UNC to put up 31 points, I can’t say I’m shocked.

At some point this season, the Gopher offense was going to have to step up and score points vs power 5 competition, in order to win. And that was today in Chapel Hill, vs the #20 ranked team in the country.

True freshman (RB) Darius Taylor responded to the challenge with 138 yards and a TD on 22 carries. He, again, looked like the best running back Minnesota has, by far. Fleck & Co obviously see the same thing. No other rusher, outside of Kaliakmanis (5), received more than three carries all game.

Related: Star Freshman Emerges: 5 Takeaways From Gophers’ Victory over Eastern Michigan

Athan Kaliakmanis’ struggles continue

But when the Gophers had to go to the air, drives stopped. We thought Athan was bad in the 1st half, when he missed receivers left and right, going 7/18 for 83 yards and an INT. That was until the 2nd half started.

With Minnesota down by a touchdown and needing Athan to throw them back into the game, he was even worse, going 4/10 for 50 yards and another INT. His protection wasn’t perfect but he was hardly Kirk Cousins fighting for his life.

The redshirt freshman lacked touch, accuracy and poise. Kaliakmanis has only started nine games in his young collegiate career but this has to be the worst one yet. He made a lot of the right reads and identified open receivers. He just couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.

This was a “look in the mirror” type game for QB Athan Kaliakmanis and offensive coordinators, Greg Harbaugh and Matt Simon. The Tar Heels defense is not good, allowing an average of 314 passing yards in their first two games, including 353 yards to their only FBS opponent of the season (South Carolina). Yet, the Gophers couldn’t throw against them.

Time for PJ Fleck & Co to re-evaluate offense

Remember, we still have Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin on the 2023 schedule, all of which have far superior defenses to North Carolina. If Athan Kaliakmanis isn’t the answer at QB like I thought he was, then they must make an in-season adjustment that makes their offense closer resemble what we’ve seen in previous seasons under PJ Fleck.

One that runs the ball more than any other power 5 school in the country, centered around their surprising young running back, Darius Taylor.

If they still believe Athan is their future, then they need to let him prove them right over the next two weeks, when they play lesser opponents, Northwestern and Louisiana. Let him show Gopher nation and himself that he’s still that guy, before Michigan comes to Dinkytown on October 14.

Until then, as far as I’m concerned, the Minnesota Gophers offense is grounded (again).

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan