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Minnesota’s special teams, other factors that will determine game against Eastern Michigan

The Gophers begin their out-of-conference play with a match against the Eagles Saturday afternoon.
Image by Andrew Cornelius

The Minnesota Gophers came off a 13-10 win over Nebraska at home last weekend. The Gophers’ talented secondary was on display, collecting three interceptions and a forced fumble.

After starting off the season on the right foot, Minnesota takes on Eastern Michigan tonight at 6:30 pm.

Tyler Nubin was named Big Ten Player of the Week after his two interception game against Nebraska. Dragan Kesich received Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after drilling the game winning field goal against the Cornhuskers.

Minnesota had two studs on the back end of the defense in Justin Walley and Nubin. Tre’Von Jones was added through the transfer portal to fill the second cornerback slot. 

On the P.J. Fleck Show, Nubin was asked about the depth in the defensive backs room.

“They are some dogs man, competitive dogs and they love to play,” Nubin said. “That’s really why I love playing with them because they love the game as much as me.”

Jones is a graduate student who transferdd from Elon University, made an instant impact in the first half with a pass breakup and an interception while Nebraska was in the red zone.

The defense bottled Nebraska’s offense to just ten points. The only touchdown they allowed came from a trick play involving a backward pass by Anthony Grant to Jeff Sims, who then threw it 35 yards downfield into the endzone to Alex Bullock.

The lead-up to the touchdown was a Rahmir Johnson 63-yard kick return.

Eastern Michigan is coming off a 33-23 win over Howard in week one. In the game, the Eagles returned two kicks for touchdowns from two different players: Jaylon Jackson and Hamze El-Zayat.

To seal a comfortable win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Minnesota’s secondary must maintain their level of play while their special teams must improve on closing in on returners.

P.J. Fleck met with the media earlier this week and talked about how Eastern Michigan won their week-one game through special teams.

“Anytime you have two returns in a game for a touchdown, that’s not by accident. They did that last year and took one to the house against Western Michigan,” Fleck said. “They are good at it and they spend a lot of time at it. They’ve got a few techniques that they use that are a little different from what we’ve seen.”

On the Eastern Michigan side, head coach Chris Creighton spoke about the upcoming game during an Eastern Michigan Athletics press conference. 

The Eagles head coach is preparing his team for a tough test on the road against the Gophers. Creighton had nothing but praise for Minnesota ahead of their matchup this weekend.

“This opponent is really tough. They’re big, they’re strong, their athletes are really good and they’re really well coached,” Creighton said. “It’s one of those things I’ve always thought, with Coach Fleck and his teams, people talk about the program part a lot, as they should, but I think sometimes people don’t talk enough about how well coached they are.” 

Minnesota will look to improve to 2-0 against Eastern Michigan on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Huntington Bank Stadium. A win would be the program’s second straight season with a 2-0 start.

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