clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

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

What shall henceforth be known as the Darius Taylor game

Eastern Michigan v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers improved to 2-0 with a 25-6 win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles in their first non-conference matchup of the season.

The Elite

Darius Taylor. Head coach P.J. Fleck made it clear in the lead-up to the game that he was not pleased with the Gophers’ ground game (or lack thereof) against Nebraska. Running the ball was a point of emphasis against Eastern Michigan and it was Darius Taylor who led the way as Minnesota amassed 296 yards on 56 attempts. The true freshman running back finished the night with 33 carries for 193 rushing yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

The Gophers’ dominant defense in the second half. The Eagles did not record a first down after halftime. They had five offensive possessions in the final two quarters and only managed four yards of offense over that span. Even when Minnesota turned the ball over twice in the second half, the defense stood tall. Tre’Von Jones sacked quarterback Austin Smith on a cornerback blitz on third down to shut down a drive made possible by a Sean Tyler fumble. Later, linebacker Devon Williams intercepted Smith to snuff out a drive that started in Minnesota territory after Brevyn Spann-Ford bobbled a pass into a defender’s hands for an interception.

Kyler Baugh. The Gophers’ starting defensive tackle was a one-man wrecking crew in the middle of the Minnesota defense, recording two of the team’s four sacks. Baugh actually had a third sack late in the second quarter but it was negated by a defensive holding penalty in the secondary.

Dragan Kesich. In his follow-up performance after earning Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the Nebraska game, Kesich was 3-for-3 on field goals. He also neutralized the Eagles’ return game, booting every kickoff through the end zone.

The blocked punt. Minnesota’s much-maligned special teams seemed intent on rectifying the mistakes of Week 1 and made their presence felt in the fourth quarter. Eastern Michigan was backed up near their own end zone when walk-on linebacker Eli Mau was gifted an open lane to the punter and blocked the punt, which Joey Gerlach then recovered in the end zone for a safety.

The Meh

The lack of explosiveness in the passing game. It was clear from the first drive that Fleck was going to force his offense to figure out how to run the ball, which came at the expense of the passing game. Athan Kalikamanis saw his passing attempts from Week 1 more than cut in half, as he finished 10-of-15 for 117 passing yards. But through the first two games of the season, the most concerning development has been the lack of explosive plays through the air.

The Ugly

Red zone execution. The good news: Minnesota had eight offensive possessions on the night and none of them ended in a punt. The bad news: Only two of them ended in a touchdown. The other six consisted of three field goals, one turnover on downs, one fumble, and one interception. It was clear that Fleck challenged his offense to be more physical up front and they answered the call, at least until they reached the goal line, at which point they struggled to impose their will.

The Gophers’ run defense. It was a first half to forget for the Gopher linebackers, who shouldered a fair amount of blame as Eastern Michigan running back Samson Evans rolled up 73 rushing yards on 11 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The defense had some issues in their run fits and had a few lapses on the edges, but fortunately the second half was a different story.

Injuries. The Gophers were without running back Bryce Williams and linebacker Cody Lindenberg, who missed his second straight game with a soft tissue injury. But tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford took a shot midway through the fourth quarter and spent the rest of the game in the injury tent. Then in the final seconds of the game, Maverick Baranowski was down after making a tackle and appeared to favor his left shoulder as he walked to the injury tent. Minnesota has no depth at linebacker, so they can’t afford to have both Lindenberg and Baranowski out.