On August 31, the Nebraska Cornhuskers begin their season with a road test against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. But this is far from a tune-up game. In 2022, the Huskers lost 20-13 in Memorial Stadium to improve the Golden Gophers’ record to 9-4. But can the Cornhuskers spoil Minnesota’s season? Let’s find out by looking at Minnesota’s offense and the skill positions specifically.
Athan Kaliakmanis is being groomed for the starting position under head coach PJ Fleck. He showed glimpses of promise by throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin in 2022. In addition to this, Kaliakmanis also threw for 132 yards in the matchup against Nebraska at the end of the season. The only downside to his game is his interceptions. If offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh, Jr. helps the Illinois native improve this aspect of his play, We could see Minnesota giving Matt Rhule and Jeff Sims a hard time in their matchup. If he doesn’t, Nebraska’s new 3-3-5 defense under Tony White could easily give Kaliakmanis trouble.
A New Starter At Running Back?
Minnesota is going to miss Mohamed Ibrahim in a Gopher uniform. As the team’s leading rusher with 4,668 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns, he was a productive player in his career with the team. But who will new running backs coach Kenni Burns choose to replace him this year? A good candidate is Western Michigan graduate transfer Sean Tyler. Across his two seasons with the Broncos, he averaged six-and-a-half yards per carry on 1,000 rushing yards. But he might be in for a rude awakening against the Cornhuskers. MJ Sherman and Elijah Jeudy look to make an immediate impact as transfer additions, while freshman defensive lineman Princewill Umanmielien and Cam Lenhardt had impressive showings in the spring game. But there could be another option in veteran Trey Potts. He has 200 carries for the Golden Gophers as well as 11 touchdowns.
Read more about Cam Lenhardt and Princewill Umanmielien here: https://lastwordonsports.com/collegefootball/2023/04/24/the-top-storylines-from-nebraskas-spring-game/
Incoming Wide Receiver Help
Ground and pound is Minnesota’s bread and butter when it comes to offense. And with a running back like Ibrahim at their disposal, Fleck didn’t need to throw the ball. But now with his departure from the program, it seems as though they have no choice. But who steps up for the Golden Gophers? Let’s start with Western Michigan slot receiver transfer Corey Crooms. In his two seasons at Western Michigan with Sean Tyler, he caught 15 passes for a total of 115 yards. But he might have competition with Elijah Spencer entering the mix this season. In his two seasons at Charlotte, he caught 85 passes for 1,307 yards and 15 touchdowns. Because of his production, expect him to get a lot of reps with the starters next fall. Besides these two options, it’s not clear who the staff would pick to occupy the third spot. Seventh-year senior Chris Autman Bell suffered a knee injury at the end of the season. Dylan Wright flashed at the end of the season against Wisconsin and Syracuse, but he was nowhere to be found at the start of it.
The Tight End Position
If there was ever a shoo-in for Minnesota’s tight end position in 2023, it would have to be redshirt senior Bevyn Spann Ford. He caught 42 passes last season along with being second on the team with 497 receiving yards and total touchdowns. To go with his receiving statistics, he was also graded as the number one tight end in the Big Ten Conference. Ford has the ability to have another breakout season for the Gophers in 2023. But who is behind him? The best guess would be Illinois native Jameson Geers. Even though he was ineffective in his starts last season, the staff is high on his abilities after two offseasons with the team. But my pick to outshine them all in the game would be Arik Gilbert. As a former five-star recruit, he has all the tools to be an excellent weapon in Nebraska’s offense. However, some of his ability began to fade at Georgia last season. This is because he only caught two passes for 16 yards and a touchdown. Since there isn’t much depth at tight end at Nebraska, he has a chance to get to his old self again. Or is this the beginning of the end of his career?
— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) May 24, 2023
Photo courtesy: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports