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Jordan Nubin carries Minnesota to a 27-12 win over Michigan State

The redshirt sophomore tailback rushed for 202 yards on 40 carries in the win.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Tailback Jordan Nubin points to the Huntington Bank crowd after a successful play against Michigan State on Oct. 28, 2023.

Minnesota Gophers football beat Michigan State 27-12 on Saturday, their first win against the program at home since 2009.

The Gophers were without their star freshmen running backs Darius Taylor and Zach Evans. In addition, Minnesota ruled out guard Tyler Cooper, giving freshman Greg Johnson his first career start.

Michigan State started redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser for the third time this season. Houser went 12-for-22 on pass attempts for 101 yards and an interception in last week’s 49-0 loss to Michigan.

A late October chill visited Minneapolis on Saturday just before kickoff with temperatures failing to breach anything more than 35 degrees. However, this did not stop Gophers linebacker Cody Lindenberg from warming up with the rest of the position group shirtless, preparing for his first game of the season.

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck headed into Saturday with a 1-3 record against Michigan State, the lone win coming last season in a 34-7 drubbing in East Lansing.

Gophers starting quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis started the game by evading the Spartans’ rush while hitting tight end Nick Kallerup in his hands, but the pass then dropped and fell incomplete. Running back Sean Tyler fumbled on the next play, handing Michigan State great field position.

Lindenberg, on his first drive back as a starter, made a crucial open field tackle to force a field goal on third down. Spartans kicker Jonathan Kim hit the 38-yard field goal, making it 3-0 Spartans.

Immediately, Fleck pivoted to walk-on running back Jordan Nubin on the next drive and picked up five yards. Tyler received the next touch on a backside screen. However, his knee was touching the ground upon making the catch, making it an eight-yard loss. Two plays later, the Gophers fumbled again, this time by Kaliakmanis.

Minnesota’s defense was bailed out on the following drive from a drop on third down by Spartan Tre Mosley. The drop forced Michigan State to settle for another field goal, putting them up 6-0.

Heading into the second quarter, the Gophers defense came up with their fourth stop. They continued to trail while the offense picked up possession inside their 20-yard line.

Receiver Daniel Jackson caught back-to-back first downs, one being a jump ball in double coverage that totaled 44 yards. Michigan State’s defensive back Dillon Tatum was called for defensive pass interference, giving Minnesota a first down in the Spartans’ red zone.

The Gophers failed to pick up a yard in three plays, leading Gophers kicker Dragan Kesich to kick a 35-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, keeping it 6-0 Spartans.

On the following Gophers offensive drive, Kaliakmanis was sacked for a loss of nine yards on first down. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford then made an incredible contested catch for 30 yards and tacked on an additional 14 due to a facemask penalty by the Spartans.

During the post-game press conference, Kaliakmanis said Spann-Ford showed who he is as a player against Michigan State, especially on the 30-yard completion.

“Things haven’t gone Brev’s way, and Brev would tell you that, but today he showed he’s Brevyn Spann-Ford, he makes huge plays in big games,” Kaliakmanis said. “That is what he does. There’s never a doubt in my mind with him, there never has been since I started playing with him.”

After the catch, Minnesota did not punch it in for six, so Fleck opted to call out Kesich to drill a 25-yard field goal, making it 6-3 Michigan State with 4:54 left in the half.

The Spartans started the next drive picking up 34 yards from a deep pass from Houser to receiver Montorie Foster Jr. Minnesota then stood tall on the next set of downs, forcing a punt from their 40-yard line with just over three minutes left in the half.

Kaliakmanis continued to feed Jackson, picking up 32 yards on back-to-back plays. While set at the Spartans’ 20-yard line, Jackson sprinted free across the middle on his route, beating the coverage and catching Kaliakmanis’ pass for a 22-yard touchdown. The Gophers star wideout put up six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Jackson said during the postgame press conference Minnesota had been waiting to use the touchdown play the whole first half.

“We were actually trying to get a certain look for it all game, lining up in that formation, but we never got it, so we were like, ‘At this point, screw it,’” Jackson said.

Kaliakmanis impressed in the first half, going 13-for-18 for 190 yards, including the touchdown pass to Jackson.

After both teams went three-and-out, Michigan State moved it to Minnesota’s 36-yard line before attempting a 53-yard field goal, which went wide left, keeping the score in the Gophers’ favor at 10-6.

Kaliakmanis, under heavy pressure, hit Jackson again over the middle of the field for a first down on third-and-eight. Nubin picked up 13 yards on the next play, moving the offense further into Spartans territory.

Kaliakmanis underthrew receiver Corey Crooms Jr. and was intercepted by Spartans Jaden Mangham who returned it to his 14-yard line. Despite the promising drive that was cut short, the Gophers’ defense got off the field, forcing the sixth Spartans punt of the game.

Nubin’s 24th carry gave him his first career 100-yard game as a Gopher. Minnesota fed Nubin two more times in which he gained 17 yards while they drove downfield with under a minute left in the third quarter.

Nubin sprung his following rush outside and, with a legal crack block from receiver Christian Autman-Bell, scampered into the endzone, making it 17-6 Minnesota.

Michigan State replaced Houser with freshman quarterback Sam Leavitt and picked up back-to-back first downs, one being a 29-yard pass to receiver Jaron Glover to get inside Minnesota territory.

A few plays later, Leavitt found his receiver, Tyrell Henry, over the middle in the endzone for a touchdown. Michigan State went for two but Minnesota made the tackle short of the goal line and held the score at 17-12.

Minnesota recovered Michigan State’s onside kick attempt with 8:36 left in the fourth quarter.

Kaliakmanis escaped the pocket on third-and-five and ran for seven yards. A defensive holding call added on five more, moving the Gophers to the 24-yard line.

Nubin was handed three straight touches, combining for 22 yards to the Michigan State two-yard line. Nubin took one more carry and fell into the endzone for the score, pushing the score to 24-12.

The Gophers reclaimed possession soon after with defensive lineman Jah Joyner knocking the ball out of Leavitt’s hands. Nubin got two straight carries, the second going for three yards and putting him over 200 yards on the day. His 40 total carries made him the second player to reach 35 or more carries during Fleck’s time at Minnesota.

During the postgame press conference, Fleck said that Nubin took advantage of his opportunity and spoke to his work ethic.

“Everybody wants their opportunity, then it is there, you don’t get to pick when that opportunity comes,” Fleck said. “He’s always been ready for his opportunity, always … he just works harder.”

Kesich drilled a 31-yard field goal, putting the Gophers up 27-12 with 3:25 left in the game.

Minnesota went back to their ground-and-pound identity with 26 rushing attempts and only one completed pass in the second half.

The last play of the game concluded just after the Spartans marched down the field. Leavitt launched it toward the endzone in a desperate attempt to score but was intercepted by Gophers defensive back Tre’Von Jones, sealing a Minnesota victory.

Minnesota will remain in Stadium Village next week as they host the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday Nov. 4 with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

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  • Sonny Chapman
    Nov 3, 2023 at 10:18 am

    What a fabulous picture!