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Minnesota Football: Minnesota’s mistakes short-circuit upset bid in 31-13 loss to North Carolina

The Gophers suffer their first setback of the season

NCAA Football: Minnesota at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1) fell behind 21-3 in the first half and failed to complete a second half comeback, suffering their first loss of the season on the road against the No. 20-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0).

The Minnesota defense was able to stifle the Tar Heels’ ground game for the most part, but quarterback Drake Maye was as good as advertised. He finished 29-of-40 for 414 passing yards and two touchdowns, though he did throw a pair of interceptions. The Gophers’ best offensive weapon for the second week in a row was true freshman running back Darius Taylor, who led the team with 22 carries for 138 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The passing game was a disaster for the Gophers. Athan Kaliakmanis had one of the worst games of his career, finishing 11-of-29 for 133 passing yards and an interception.

The Tar Heels struck first on their opening drive of the game. On 3rd & 12 at the Gophers’ 46-yard line, a blown coverage in the secondary left redshirt freshman safety Aidan Gousby chasing wide receiver Nate McCollum into the end zone on a 46-yard connection from Drake Maye. Minnesota seemed poised to respond on their opening drive, but at the Tar Heels’ 25-yard line, Athan Kaliakmanis threw high and behind tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, who tried to tip the ball to himself but ended up deflecting it into the hands of linebacker Power Echols for an interception.

After the two teams traded punts, North Carolina marched 80 yards in six plays, sparked by a 55-yard completion to Kamari Morales, who was brought down at the goal line by Gousby. The third down play was a disaster from the start, as the ball was snapped before Minnesota’s subs could get set, which was allowable because the Tar Heels didn’t sub. Omarion Hampton’s one-yard touchdown plunge made it a 14-0 lead for North Carolina in the second quarter.

Just when it seemed like the game was about to get away from the Gophers after a quick three-and-out on offense, Jack Henderson intercepted Maye to set up Minnesota inside the red zone. Dragan Kesich converted it into three points with a 23-yard field goal. On the Tar Heels’ next drive, North Carolina drove into Minnesota territory but pressure from defensive end Jah Joyner forced a bad throw from Maye that ended up in the hands of rush end Chris Collins for an interception. Unfortunately, the offense was not able to capitalize on the turnover.

The game looked grim once the Tar Heels took a 21-3 lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Nesbit in the final minutes of the first half. But the Gophers clung to life with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive before halftime, capped by a Darius Taylor two-yard touchdown run.

Minnesota opened the second half with a scoring drive, albeit a 45-yard field goal by Kesich to cut North Carolina’s lead to 21-13. After the Gopher defense turned away the Tar Heels, Kaliakmanis was able to lead the offense back into North Carolina territory before having to exit the game with cramps. Back-up quarterback Cole Kramer stepped in and proceeded to throw an ill-advised arm punt into the end zone for a drive-ending interception. The Tar Heels took advantage of the turnover with a 42-yard field goal to extend their lead to 24-13 near the end of the third quarter.

North Carolina salted the game away with an 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. British Brooks’ one-yard touchdown made it a final score of 31-13.