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Minnesota Football vs. Michigan State: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

The Jordan Nubin Game

Michigan State v Minnesota Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-3) rallied from a 6-0 first quarter deficit to send the Michigan State Spartans (2-6) to their sixth straight loss, prevailing by a score of 27-12.

The Elite

Jordan Nubin. With Bryce Williams out for the season, Darius Taylor and Zach Evans sidelined with injuries, and Sean Tyler unable to hold on to the football, the Gophers turned to walk-on running back Jordan Nubin to carry the load against Michigan State. It’s safe to say he was up to the task. Operating behind a Minnesota offensive line that found their groove in the second half, Nubin racked up 40 carries for 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was the performance of a lifetime for a running back who had never seen meaningful playing time prior to this game.

No one was more excited about Nubin’s breakout game than his brother. Here you can see Tyler sprinting down the sideline to celebrate Jordan’s first career touchdown.

The Minnesota offensive line. With true freshman Greg Johnson making his first career start in place of injured left guard Tyler Cooper, the Minnesota Movers needed a bit of time to settle in against a solid Michigan State defensive front. But once they did, it was off to the races. When you’re fifth-string running back piles up 200+ yards, you know he didn’t do it alone. Credit to this unit for imposing their will in the second half and wearing down the Spartans up front.

Daniel Jackson. Nubin was the star of the second half, but the first half belonged to wide receiver Daniel Jackson. He finished the game with seven receptions for 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, most of which came before halftime. It was his second straight game with 100+ receiving yards and his 22-yard touchdown catch in the closing seconds of the first half broke a Minnesota touchdown drought that was approaching eight quarters.

The Gopher defense. The Minnesota offense did their defense no favors in the first quarter, handing the ball to Michigan State in plus territory on back-to-back drives. But the Gophers were able to force the Spartans to go three-and-out on both possessions and limit the damage to a pair of field goals. Michigan State did not score again until midway through the fourth quarter, when Minnesota looked out of sorts against backup quarterback Sam Leavitt. Prior to the Leavitt-led scoring drive, the Gopher defense had held the Spartan offense to 117 passing yards and 58 rushing yards. For the second week in a row, they took care of business against a bad offense.

Jah Joyner. After Minnesota responded to Michigan State’s touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive of their own, the Spartans tried to build off the success of their previous possession. Defensive end Jah Joyner was having none of it. On the first play, his pressure off the edge forced Leavitt to throw incomplete. On the second play, Joyner got home, sacking Leavitt, stripping the ball from him, and recovering the fumble himself.

Rhyland Kelly. The redshirt freshman cornerback’s contribution to the game may have been anonymous to many fans, but he was the one who reeled in Michigan State’s surprise onside kick attempt. He also held on to the ball while absorbing a shot from running back Alante Brown, whose was nearly ejected for targeting before replay review determined it was a legal hit.

The Meh

Athan Kaliakmanis. If not for the first quarter fumble and an egregious interception in the third quarter — “It’s not acceptable,” P.J. Fleck said in his postgame press conference — I might have considered bumping Kaliakmanis up to the Elite category. He finished 14-of-22 for a season-high 200 passing yards and a touchdown. The Gophers leaned on Kaliakmanis heavily in the first half, even as the offensive line struggled in pass protection. He made a number of big throws to Daniel Jackson, found Corey Crooms for 30 yards on a cross country route, and threw a 30-yard strike to Brevyn Spann-Ford on 2nd & 19. His biggest issue in this game was knowing when to throw the ball away. Too often he tries to find a play when there isn’t one to be made.

The Ugly

Turnovers. If the ball is the program, the Gophers didn’t take very good care of the program on Saturday. They turned the ball over three times against the Spartans, who scored six of their points off turnovers. Sean Tyler’s fumble on the second play of the game set up Michigan State to take the lead on a 38-yard field goal. On the next drive, a strip sack of Athan Kaliakmanis led to a 42-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead for the Spartans. Minnesota was knocking on the door of the red zone in the third quarter when Kaliakmanis threw his interception.

Sean Tyler. The Western Michigan transfer’s time at Minnesota has been underwhelming to say the least. Ball security issues in the first two games led to Tyler being benched. With Bryce Williams out for the year and Darius Taylor and Zach Evans both sidelined with injuries, this game was an opportunity for Tyler to get his season back on track, but he literally fumbled away that opportunity. On his first carry of the game, Tyler put the ball on the turf and Michigan State recovered, allowing the Spartans to take a 3-0 lead on their ensuing drive. I’m not sure how much we’ll see Tyler the rest of the way, if we even see him at all.