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Minnesota drops the first road game of the season to North Carolina 31-13

The Gophers’ defense allowed 414 passing yards in their loss to the AP-ranked Tar Heels, the most yards allowed since 2018 against Ohio State.
Image by Jack Rodgers
Head coach P.J. Fleck celebrates on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 at Huntington Bank Stadium. The Gophers’ loss against Northwestern weekend leaves no clear roadmap for where the team goes next.

Minnesota headed into Chapel Hill searching for their first ranked win on the road in nine seasons. Instead, the Tar Heels’ aerial attack proved too much as Minnesota was outgained by over 200 yards in Saturday’s 13-31 loss to North Carolina.

Execution was one of the main issues in the loss, whether it was third down stops, incompletions or failure to make explosive plays. Head coach P.J. Fleck reflected in the post-game press conference on how the execution needs to improve.

“I think our team has a chance to be a top 25 team,” Fleck said. “I feel we were a few plays away from being in that talk tonight. So, we got to get those few plays fixed.”

The Gophers’ last win against a ranked opponent on the road came in 2014 against no. 21 Nebraska.

North Carolina started the game at their 25-yard line. Quarterback Drake Maye took no time to start connecting with his receiver Nate McCollum. Maye targeted McCollum five times on the drive, including a dime perfectly thrown over Gophers safety Aidan Gousby for a touchdown.

All of Maye’s first-quarter passes were completed to McCollum for seven receptions, 95 yards and a touchdown.

The quick score did not detract Minnesota from their usual ways. Sophomore quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis played within ten yards of the line of scrimmage and handed true freshman running back Darius Taylor a majority of the workload.

The drive was cut short after a poorly placed pass by Kaliakmanis hit the hands of tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, tipping the ball into the air and into the hands of opposing linebacker Power Echols.

Kaliakmanis struggled throughout the game, finishing with just 133 passing yards, 38% completion percentage and an interception. Post-game the Gophers quarterback reflected on the tough game in Chapel Hill.

“Coaches had a great game plan. It just came down to me executing and I failed to execute,” Kaliakmanis said. “That was probably the worst game I’ve ever played and I can’t wait to learn. I fell short today and let my teammates down.”

The next drive, defensive linemen Kyler Baugh and Jah Joyner combined for a sack on the Tar Heels’ following drive and pushed their offense into a fourth and long. Maye continued to do it all for North Carolina and pooch punted the possession back to Minnesota.

After Kaliakmanis failed to get the Gophers’ offense out of their territory, Maye took advantage of the early opportunity to score again. He hit running back Omarion Hampton underneath for a 17-yard gain. A few plays later, Maye caught Minnesota mid-substitution which led to tight end Kamari Morales breaking open behind the defense for a 55-yard catch.

Hampton finished the drive by punching it into the end-zone for six, putting North Carolina up 14-0 with 13:17 left in the first half.

Minnesota scored in two of their next three drives. Their first followed Hampton’s touchdown via a Dragan Kesich field goal. The next score was carried in for a touchdown by Taylor with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Between Minnesota’s comeback efforts, Maye continued to connect through the air, launching a pass to receiver J.J. Jones deep over the middle on a post for 39 yards into Minnesota territory. North Carolina then ran a fake screen to McCollum which left tight end Bryson Nesbit open for a walk-in touchdown.

The score was held to 10-21 at halftime in favor of the Tar Heels. Minnesota’s defense had allowed 287 passing yards at this point, a surprisingly high mark given their average of allowing 92.5 passing yards per game.

Minnesota started the second half strong, moving the ball on the ground and through the air. Kaliakmanis hit receiver Le’Meke Brockington over the middle for a pickup of 18 yards to the Tar Heels’ 29-yard line. The offense could not push further and settled for another Kesich field goal.

The defense returned the favor within six plays and forced North Carolina to punt. Just as the Gophers seemed to have gained offensive momentum, Kaliakmanis took an awkward slide after crossing the first down mark and limped off the field. Backup quarterback Cole Kramer came in to replace Kaliakmanis and, on his first pass attempt, threw a deep interception intended for receiver Daniel Jackson.

North Carolina made it a two-possession game the following drive by knocking down a 42-yard field goal.

Defensive lineman Danny Striggow picked up a sack on Maye for a loss of five to put North Carolina behind the chains. After the game, Striggow talked about how Maye compared to other quarterbacks Minnesota has played.

“He was very composed in the pocket. I felt like we were able to get some good pressure on him, obviously we got him on the ground a few times, but he was comfortable back there,” Striggow said. “A lot of quarterbacks you see get antsy when the pocket starts to close on them; he looked comfortable.”

Both teams pitted their rushing attacks against each other as the game clock continued to wind down. Their exchanges resulted in several punts, but, through running back British Brooks, the Tar Heels were the first to find success. From one yard away, Brooks rammed through the Gophers defensive line for North Carolina’s fourth touchdown.

The Gophers offense failed to return the favor and went three-and-out. They opted to punt yet again, this time sealing their fate with 4:01 left in the game. The Tar Heels sent out their offense for one last time to run out the remaining minutes and secure the win over the Gophers.

Minnesota drops to 2-1 on the season and will head to Evanston, Illinois, to face the Northwestern Wildcats, their second Big Ten matchup of the 2023 season.

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