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Minnesota dominates all three phases in 25-6 win over Eastern Michigan

Freshman running back Darius Taylor’s historic break-out game accounts for nearly half of Minnesota’s 413 offensive yards, lifting the team to their second win.
Image by Andrew Cornelius
P.J. Fleck at a post-game press conference after beating Eastern Michigan University 25-6 on Sept. 9, 2023.

The Minnesota Gophers hosted the Eastern Michigan Eagles in a non-conference showdown. Both teams entered the game 1-0 after winning at home in their season openers.

For the second straight week, captain Cody Lindenberg was not available due to an injury he picked up during practice. Chris Autman-Bell was questionable heading into the game and did not see a single snap.

Eastern Michigan won the toss and elected to receive, looking to carry on the momentum from their successful special teams performance the week before.

On the opening drive, Gophers safety Darius Green darted toward Eastern Michigan quarterback Austin Smith and tackled him for a loss of three yards. Defensive lineman Kyler Baugh followed the play with his first sack on the season.

Running back Sean Tyler kick-started the Gophers’ offense with an outside run for a 12-yard gain. The offense continued to move down the field with Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis connecting with wide receiver Daniel Jackson for 22 yards.

After eclipsing their rushing total against Nebraska with 56 yards on the first drive, Minnesota found themselves inside Eastern Michigan’s five-yard line. Four unsuccessful rushes later and the Gophers turned the ball back over to the Eagles.

Minnesota’s defense had trouble containing the run in the first half. The Eagles averaged 5.9 yards per carry and used that production, turning it into two field goals in the second quarter. However, the Gophers’ secondary kept the Eagles away from the end zone all game.

The Gophers secondary held Eastern Michigan to just 71 passing yards on 45% completion with an interception.

Once again Minnesota got the ball inside the 10-yard line and could not punch it in, settling for a 24-yard field goal from Dragan Kesich, the hero of last week’s nail-biting win over Nebraska, to make it 3-0 Minnesota.

On Minnesota’s next offensive drive, Darius Taylor established himself as lead back for the rest of the game.

Taylor began by showing off his elusiveness on back-to-back carries, one for 19 yards followed by another for seven. The true freshman finished the drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown, the first of his college career. He finished the game with 33 carries for 193 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

“My biggest takeaway from this game was keeping my head focused, being poised, keeping things just honed in, focusing on my details, doing what I’m supposed to do and riding on the coattails of the [offensive] line and tight ends,” Taylor said.

With Minnesota up 10-6, Tyler took the second-half opening kick to the 25-yard mark. The backfield duo of Tyler and Taylor carried the offense to the goal line, but Eastern Michigan’s defensive front stood firm and stone-walled the Gophers from reaching the end zone. Kesich knocked down his third field goal.

Minnesota’s defense continued to shut down the Eastern Michigan offense. In the second half, they limited the Eagles to just four yards of total offense while dominating time of possession by a difference of 13 minutes and 44 seconds.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, Eastern Michigan was backed up against their end zone and was forced to punt. Redshirt sophomore Eli Mau broke through the Eagles special teams unit and blocked the punt.

Baugh had one of the better moments during the game when the Big Ten Network cameras found Baugh in awe of the block.

Post-game, Baugh reflected on what he was thinking during the moment.

“I was shocked. I was like, ‘I’ve never seen that happen before,’ and honestly I don’t know what was going through my head because my jaw was dropped.”

The Gophers recovered the ball in the end zone, but the initial touchdown call was shortly overturned and ruled as a safety.

“We played complimentary football,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “Even when times got tough, we made plays on offense. The defense was outstanding. Special teams blocked a punt. It was all connected.”

The block was Minnesota’s first since Preston Jelen’s block against Michigan in 2020.

In two minutes, Kaliakmanis and Smith traded interceptions in their following possessions. The Gophers then returned to the run game and never went back.

Minnesota ran nine-straight times on their final drive, leaving less than 30 seconds to spare, before failing to convert on third down. Kesich ran back onto the field and tallied his fourth field goal of the night, pushing the score to 25-6.

Baugh preserved the score with a sack on the game’s final play. His two-sack performance marks his first multi-sack game of his collegiate career.

In the post-game press conference, Baugh reflected on how new defensive line coach Winston DeLattiboudere has impacted his mentality heading into games.

“My mindset has changed just by approaching every day differently, being positive with my teammates, playing the game of football,” said Baugh.

After finishing the 2022 season with just 19 sacks, Minnesota has seven sacks in the first two games of the 2023 campaign.

Minnesota finished with 413 total yards of offense while holding Eastern Michigan to just 152 total yards. The Gophers’ next game will be against the No. 20 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the Associated Press college football poll, led by quarterback and potential top-five draft pick Drake Maye.

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