Minnesota vs Nebraska: Gophers’ Guide to Victory – Week 1

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota vs Nebraska Preview: The Minnesota Gophers will welcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers into Huntington Bank Stadium on Thursday, to open their 2023 season. You never want to call a week 1 Big Ten West matchup a must-win, but given the schedule difficulty for PJ Fleck’s squad this season (five opponents in preseason top-25), it sure feels like exactly that.

Nebraska is in the first year of a complete rebuild under new head coach, Matt Rhule, after Scott Frost ran the program into the ground in his 4.5-year tenure and have low expectations. It’s a game Minnesota has to have, if they want to get back to 9 or more wins again.

Here’s everything you need to know entering Thursday’s game:

When is Minnesota vs Nebraska?

Date: Thursday, August 31

Time: 7 PM CT

Stadium: Huntington Bank Stadium

Capacity: 50,805

How to watch Minnesota vs Nebraska

Television: FOX

Announcers: Gus Johnson (PXP), Joel Klatt (Analyst), Jenny Taft (Reporter)

How to listen to Minnesota vs Nebraska

Radio: KFAN FM 100.3 OR SiriusXM 135 or 195; SXM App

Announcers: Mike Grimm (Play by Play), Darrell Thompson (Analyst), Justin Gaard (Reporter), Tanner Hoops (Host), Dan Rowbotham (Engineer)

Minnesota vs Nebraska gopher football athan kaliakmanis
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Gopher storylines to watch:

QB – Athan Kaliakmanis: The Gophers’ new QB1 had underwhelming numbers in his 11 appearances last season but he went 26 for 36 for 399 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his final two games vs Wisconsin and Syracuse. PJ Fleck must trust his redshirt sophomore QB to lead their offense into the modern age and it starts with letting him fling it in Thursday’s opener. Kaliakmanis needs to be given the oars to Minnesota’s 2023 boat. Let him sink or swim.

New Offensive Weapons: Athan has a bunch of new weapons in his arsenal this year. Fleck pulled 1,000 yard rusher, Sean Tyler (Western Michigan) to help replace the departed Mohamed Ibrahim. Transfer wide receivers, Corey Crooms (Western Michigan) and Elijah Spencer (Charlotte) enter the season on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.

CRAB Returns: Thursday is expected to be the return of (WR) Chris Autman-Bell, a 7-year senior who came back for one more season after tearing his ACL during the 2022 campaign. His production could go a long way toward how explosive the Gophers offense is in 2023

Rossi’s Defensive Dominance: Minnesota lost a lot of major defensive contributors from last season but bring back leaders like (S) Tyler Nubin, (CB) Justin Walley, (LB) Cody Lindenberg and (DL) Jah Joyner. But Joe Rossi, who was ranked No. 8 by The Athletic in their “Top-30 CFB Assistant Coaches to Watch”, will have to prove his genius if the Gopher defense is going to be as dominant as it has been in recent years.

  • Last year, the Golden Gophers ranked eighth in the country by allowing 295.1 total yards per contest. They also had the No. 4 defense in terms of scoring (13.8 ppg), and No. 15 in passing yards allowed (186.1) and rush defense (109.0). Minnesota, Air Force, Illinois, and Iowa were the only teams in the FBS that ranked in the top 20 in each of those categories. (via U of M Athletic Dept)

Three Keys to a Gophers Victory:

  1. Start strong: This seems cliche but Nebraska is a rebuilding team that has lived in a losing atmosphere for a half-decade. Minnesota needs to jump out to an early lead, in order to kill any confidence they may have built up this fall. If they can do that, Husker heads could start hanging early on the opposite sideline.
  2. Let Athan cook: I mentioned this earlier — and I’ve written about it on multiple occasions — but it’s worth noting again. PJ Fleck must allow Athan Kaliakmanis to fling the ball around, both on Thursday and during the rest of the season. That means allowing him to make mistakes, without extreme consequences. This is the biggest key to Minnesota’s season.
  3. Win the Special Teams battle: Minnesota has two veterans kicking and punting the ball for them this season. It’s imperetive that Dragan Kesich doesn’t leave points on the field by missing kicks that D1 kickers should make. In the same token, punter Mark Crawford must prove his ability to pin Nebraska deep and flip field position when called upon. Do not give the Huskers offense a bunch of short fields to work with.

History between Minnesota vs Nebraska:

Series Overall: Minnesota Leads 36-25-2

Streak: Minnesota Won 4

Series in MN: Minnesota Leads 24-13-2

Streak: Minnesota Won 3

Last Meeting: Minnesota won 20-13 in Lincoln, Neb. (11/5/22)

Five things to know (via Gopher media guide)

1 | University of Minnesota football begins its 140th season, and seventh under head coach P.J. Fleck, Thursday night as it hosts Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with a national TV audience on FOX.

2 | Minnesota is 97-36-6 all-time in season openers, including wins in five of its last seven openers (4-2 under Fleck). The Golden Gophers are 101-31-7 all-time in home openers with an identical stretch of five wins in their past seven home openers (also 4-2 under Fleck). Minnesota, which is opening a season at home for the 11th straight year, is 9-5 in home openers since Huntington Bank Stadium opened in 2009.

3 | For the third time in the last four seasons, Minnesota opens the year with a Big Ten opponent after facing Michigan in a 2020 schedule that featured only league action and Ohio State in 2021. Thursday’s matchup with the Huskers will be the 11th time in program history that Minnesota faces a conference foe in the season opener. The Gophers are 2-8 in those previous games. Overall, Minnesota is 64-55-8 in Big Ten openers, including a 71-51-5 mark at home. Thursday marks the seventh time that Minnesota opens the season against Nebraska, going 3-3 in the previous games in a span from 1946-64.

4 | Minnesota is coming off a 2022 campaign where it finished with a 9-4 record overall, capping it off with a 28-20 win over Syracuse in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl. Minnesota reached nine wins in a season for the 11th time in school history and the third time in the past four years under head coach P.J. Fleck, something that hadn’t happened since 1905. Fleck is just the second Minnesota coach to have at least three seasons with nine or more victories. Henry L. Williams had six such seasons from 1900-21, while all other coaches in program history have a combined two ninewin seasons. Combined with a 9-4 record in 2021, the 18 wins over two seasons are tied for the most in Gopher history since 1904-05 and it’s just the eighth time ever the team has won at least 18 games in consecutive years. In addition, Minnesota went 5-4 in league play after a 6-3 Big Ten record in 2021. It’s the first time with back-to-back conference seasons over .500 since 1968-69.

5 | The 2023 campaign is the seventh for head coach P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, where he holds a record of 44-27. He is already fifth in program history for wins and sixth in Big Ten wins (26) and games coached (71). Fleck’s .620 win percentage is third best among the 11 Minnesota coaches with at least 45 games under their helm behind only Henry L. Williams (.786, 1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (.716, 1932-41, ‘45-50). In his 11th season overall as a college head coach, Fleck is 74-49 (.598).

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