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Minnesota Football vs. Syracuse: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

The end of an era at Minnesota


The Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-4) closed out the 2022 season with a 28-20 win over the Syracuse Orange (7-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday.

The Elite

Mohamed Ibrahim. The Gophers’ All-American running back only needed two quarters to finish rewriting the school’s record books. By halftime, Mohamed Ibrahim had laid claim to the program’s single-season rushing yards and rushing touchdowns records, in addition to becoming Minnesota’s all-time leading rusher. After the game, Tanner Morgan was campaigning for Ibrahim’s number to be retired, and I second that motion. He is one of the greatest running backs to ever wear the maroon and gold, and I’m grateful for everything he has done for this program.

Tanner Morgan. It seemed a safe bet that Athan Kaliakmanis would make his fourth consecutive start at quarterback, leaving many fans to wonder if some sort of send-off would be possible for the winningest quarterback in program history. Whatever send-off the coaching staff may have had in mind went out in the window in the second quarter when Kaliakmanis left the game with a right ankle injury, forcing Tanner Morgan into action. Four plays after entering the game, the sixth-year signal caller connected with Daniel Jackson for the first of two touchdown passes. It wasn’t a spectacular performance, but I am glad that Morgan — who has never been anything but a class act on and off the field — was able to help lead the Gophers to a victory one last time.

Daniel Jackson. Much has been written about Minnesota’s efforts to bolster their wide receiver corps via the transfer portal, but Daniel Jackson took it upon himself to remind everyone that the cupboard is far from bare. He led the team with four receptions for 73 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including an incredible catch in the corner of the end zone on a dime from Morgan.

Coleman Bryson. The true freshman safety was thrust into his first career start in the absence of Tyler Nubin, who was sidelined with a hand injury. Coleman Bryson certainly made the most of it, recording seven tackles and delivering the play of the game with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown as Syracuse was marching down the field in the third quarter.

P.J. Fleck. The Gophers improved to 4-0 in bowl games under head coach P.J. Fleck, who is now 18-1 against non-conference opponents at Minnesota. With the win over Syracuse, the Gophers also finished with nine wins or more for the third time in four years. This is the first time Minnesota has had such a stretch of success since 1900-1905.

The Meh

[Open to suggestions here]

The Ugly

Defending the pass. The Minnesota secondary started the game short-handed without safety Tyler Nubin (hand injury) and nickel back Michael Dixon (transfer), before losing cornerback Terell Smith at halftime to what was reportedly a hamstring injury. So I will cut them some slack for not being at full strength, but Syracuse quarterback Garret Shrader was able to pick them apart far too easily at times, finishing 32-of-51 and racking up 330 passing yards on the day. The low point came before halftime, when Shrader shredded the Gopher defense through the air, driving 85 yards on four pass plays with 45 seconds left on the game clock.

Trying to move the ball in the second half. The Gophers found themselves without their starting quarterback, their starting running back, and their starting center in the second half, and the offense looked toothless as a result. Minnesota only ran 14 offensive plays after halftime and amassed 50 yards of total offense, 25 of which came on a tunnel screen to Daniel Jackson for a touchdown that was set up by Quentin Redding’s 72-yard kickoff return. It was reminiscent of the Purdue game, when the Gophers struggled to move the ball without Mohamed Ibrahim.

Injuries. Minnesota suffered two big losses in the game, the first being the loss of quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to a right ankle injury in the second quarter. Linebacker Cody Lindenberg also exited the game with a left ankle injury in the third quarter. Fortunately, the Gophers seem to have dodged a bullet with both of them. Fleck said after the game that if the injuries had occurred in the regular season, neither of them would have missed more than a couple weeks. So I would expect both Kaliakmanis and Lindenberg to be healthy by spring practice.

Playing football in baseball stadiums. For two straight years now, the Gophers have had to deal with poor field conditions in their bowl games. The common denominator? Both games were played in baseball stadiums. Call me crazy, but I think football games should be played in football stadiums. The idea of hosting bowl games at Yankee Stadium and Chase Field may have sounded cool on paper, but in reality the playing conditions are a player safety hazard.