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

What a catch, Daniel Jackson

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-0) spoiled the debut of head coach Matt Rhule, rallying in the final minutes of Thursday’s season opener to stun the Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-1).

The Elite

Daniel Jackson’s toe-dragging touchdown to tie the game. For the first 57 minutes and 28 seconds of the season, the Minnesota offense could not find the end zone. When they finally did, it required a herculean effort by wide receiver Daniel Jackson to haul in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Athan Kaliakmanis on fourth down with the game on the line. Not only was the catch incredible, requiring Jackson to keep his right foot off the ground while dragging the tip of his left foot across the turf in bounds, but the route was a thing of beauty. What. A. Play.

Tyler Nubin. As if anyone needed a reminder how much of a boost it provided this year’s defense when Tyler Nubin decided to return for his final year of eligibility, the All-Big Ten safety wasted no time making an impact, snatching a pair of interceptions in the season opener. His fourth quarter interception set up the Gophers’ game-winning drive in the final minute.

The Gopher defense. This was not a perfect performance, but I have a tough time being too critical of a defense that forced four turnovers, recorded three sacks, and held their opponent to 10 points, with the only touchdown allowed coming on a busted trick play. The biggest issue was stopping the run. Even when it became clear that all the Huskers’ offense had going for it was quarterback Jeff Sims running the ball, Minnesota struggled to keep him contained. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Gophers were without their top linebacker Cody Lindenberg, leading to a trial by fire for inexperienced linebackers Devon Williams and Maverick Baranowski. But while the offense sputtered, the defense kept Minnesota in the game.

The winning streak against Nebraska lives on. The Gophers notched their fifth straight win over the Cornhuskers, and their fourth straight by a margin of seven points or less.

The Meh

The Minnesota passing game. This was the official launch of the Athan Kaliakmanis era and it was something of a mixed bag. The Gophers made 44(!) pass attempts, but only completed 54 percent of them. Of the two new transfer wide receivers, Corey Crooms Jr. made the biggest impression, catching seven passes for 63 receiving yards. Pass protection was rough at times, though Kaliakmanis flashed his athleticism and was able to elude pressure on multiple occasions. Minnesota was just never able to find a rhythm in the passing game.

The “Gold Out” crowd. Nebraska fans travel well, so I expected there to be a fair amount of red bleeding into the “Gold Out,” but I was genuinely disappointed by the number of Gopher fans. I had hoped a Thursday night season opener against a Big Ten opponent would be of more interest than a traditional cupcake non-conference opponent, but apparently not.

The Ugly

The Gophers’ ground game. Life is rough without Mohamed Ibrahim. Not only is Minnesota having to adapt to life without one of the best running backs in program history, but they also came into this season needing to replace all three of their starting interior offensive linemen. The results were not good. As a team, the Gophers averaged 2.2 yards per carry. Sean Tyler led the way with 10 carries for 41 rushing yards. Bryce Williams had six carries for 14 yards, and is evidently ahead of Zach Evans and Darius Taylor on the depth chart. If Minnesota is not able to run the ball with any consistency this season, they are not going to win very many games in the Big Ten.

Special teams. P.J. Fleck himself said the Gophers weren’t very good on special teams Thursday night in his postgame press conference. He had Dragan Kesich attempt a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter that came up short. Quentin Redding returned three kickoffs that all ended up short of the 20-yard line. Nebraska’s lone touchdown was set up by a 63-yard kickoff return to open the second half. Kesich did deliver in the clutch with a game-winning 47-yard field goal as time expired, but specials team overall left much to be desired.