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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Minnesota’s offensive line prides themselves on physicality

The Gophers rely on the run more than any team in the Big Ten.
Athan+Kaliakmanis+lines+up+under+center%2C+ready+to+run+a+play+against+Michigan+Oct.+7%2C+2023.
Image by Amaya Battle
Athan Kaliakmanis lines up under center, ready to run a play against Michigan Oct. 7, 2023.

The Minnesota Gophers have the most rushing attempts in the Big Ten with 339 and churn out 4.1 yards per carry. Minnesota’s offensive line is integral in producing those rushing stats, especially considering the decimation of their running back room due to several injuries.

Three different running backs have received Big Ten awards for their play behind this stout offensive line.

Head coach P.J. Fleck told the media Monday morning the offensive line played well, dominating the line of scrimmage.

“I was really impressed with [the offensive line]. I thought our two tackles played well and Nathan Boe played well,” Fleck said. “I’m talking about competitiveness, firing off the ball, nasty play. Love that.”

The mentality of the offensive line is stressed week in and week out by Fleck and offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh Jr.

Harbaugh, during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, said this physicality is expected of the offensive line.

“It’s what’s expected of them, it’s what’s demanded of them, the mentality that we’re going to do whatever we can to win,” Harbaugh said. “Callahan instills in them everyday physicality, the how and execution.”

In the second half of the Michigan State game, the Gophers only attempted four passes, completing one of them for ten yards. The other 26 plays were rushes that accumulated 145 yards and two touchdowns leading to the 27-12 victory.

Joe Rossi, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Gophers, told the media Wednesday afternoon having an offensive line like the one Minnesota has is a luxury to the defense.

“Whenever you’re able to run the ball as an offense, the defense likes that, so being able to control the clock, grind it out, control the chains, that’s the defense’s best friend,” Rossi said.

The strong offensive line play helped Minnesota hold the ball for over 36 minutes against the Spartans.

Rossi said having a strong offensive line helps sharpen the defensive line during training camp and spring ball.

Veterans Quinn Carroll and Aireontae Ersery are used to the grind of the offensive line. Freshman offensive lineman, Greg Johnson, got his first start against Michigan State with Tyler Cooper injured.

Harbaugh, told the media Wednesday afternoon Johnson is still learning the small details and improving.

“He’s going to be a great player, he is continuing to get better every single day, focused on those little small details … I couldn’t be more proud of the way he’s handled the situation,” Harbaugh said.

The Gophers’ offensive line led the rushing attack to 200 yards last week against the Spartans. Minnesota’s rushing identity was on full display as they rushed the ball 50 times compared to just 22 pass attempts.

For the first time this season, quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis hit 200 passing yards in a game. The Gophers quarterback went 13-for-18 for 190 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Minnesota not only established they had three capable backs last week but also Kaliakmanis can get the ball to their playmakers in space and tight windows.

The Gophers get a great matchup against an Illinois defense that is third worst in the Big Ten at stopping the run. The Fighting Illini allow 161 yards per game on the ground and 4.2 yards per carry.

Those two stats show the potential for a promising week for Minnesota’s rushing attack which is coming off one of its best games of the season.

Freshmen running backs Darius Taylor and Zach Evans did not play against Michigan State. However, they have not been ruled out for Saturday’s game. A three-headed monster in Taylor, Evans and Jordan Nubin presents a nightmare for Illinois Defensive Coordinator Aaron Henry.

Minnesota will host Illinois at Huntington Bank Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on Fox. They are looking to become bowl-eligible for the fifth straight season without counting the COVID-19 year.

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