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FINAL SCORE: Minnesota 25, Eastern Michigan 6
Minnesota dominated the ground game with nearly 300 rushing yards in almost 40 minutes of possession. EMU's goal line stops, though tough, wouldn't be enough.
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If Eastern Michigan was going to have a shot against Minnesota, it would have to control the line of scrimmage and win the run game offensively and defensively. That simply would not be the case Saturday night as Minnesota had 296 rushing yards to chew off 39:34 of time, and was just more effective and efficient in just about every aspect of the game. While Eastern Michigan was able to come away with two takeaways in the fourth quarter, Minnesota’s defense pushed EMU’s offense back 23 yards off of those turnovers and let the Eagles finish with only 152 total yards of offense for the day.
Final score: Minnesota 25, EMU 6.
EMU (1-1 overall) didn’t lose because of some tricks up P.J. Fleck’s sleeve, who is now 4-0 all-time against Chris Creighton’s program. Minnesota (2-0, 1-0 Big Ten) kept the game plan simple and reduced things to arm wrestling across the board. While Eastern feels good about a lot of its roster leading into the MAC schedule, but facing these Gophers — which was ranked #29 in F+ coming into the week — is not the same as facing Ball State, Northern Illinois, or Toledo.
Even in EMU’s best moments of the game where it showed its strength and guts with some red-zone stops, the Gophers still scored on five of those trips. In some ways, the defense held up its end of the bargain. Eastern’s offense, however, just didn’t match the moment.
Two big turnovers: Two duds
Through three quarters, EMU only trailed by two possessions. Trailing 20-6 isn’t an ideal situation to be in after 45 minutes of play, but not an unmanageable situation either.
Eastern even stole the ball away from Minnesota, which seemed like it could’ve been a turning point in the game. Justin Jefferson, tackling Sean Tyler, got the ball out from the running back’s possession to end a 6-play, 51-yard drive at EMU’s 30-yard line.
As big as it was to steal that possession from Minnesota, the follow-up wasn’t there. Three plays, 13 yards lost, and a blocked EMU punt in the end zone led to a Minnesota player recovering the ball with his foot out of bounds. That resulted in a safety, and forced EMU to punt it back to Minnesota with 8:51 remaining.
But, two plays into Minnesota’s next drive, EMU got its second turnover via interception. Athan Kaliakmanis’ pass was bobbled by tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford as he was hit by linebackers Chase Kline and Joe Sparacio. The ball was hit into the hands of cornerback Bennett Walker, the first of his EMU tenure.
With another chance after a turnover, the drive ended in an interception after 10 yards lost due to a holding penalty on the first play. Out of a 3rd & 20 situation, Austin Smith’s pass over the middle to J.B. Mitchell was intercepted by Devon Williams — one of many Gopher defensive backs in the area.
After the second pick, Minnesota took over on EMU’s 47-yard line and chewed off nearly 6 minutes of time over 11 plays to finish the drive with a field goal from the 2-yard line.
Six Minnesota drives finish inside EMU’s 10-yard line
Minnesota had to drive to the 2, 6, 3, 1, and 3-yard lines to put up its first 20 points through the first three quarters.
The first drive lasted 12 plays for 79 yards with a turnover on downs at the end, then a field goal after 10 plays, 56 yards, a touchdown after 13 plays and 93 yards, a second field goal after a 15-play, 74-yard drive, and a second touchdown after a 7-play, 64-yard drive.
Then in the fourth, with the game already out of reach, Minnesota made it all the way to EMU’s 2-yard line before finishing with another field goal.
The situation on this side of the ball is two-pronged. EMU’s defense showed a ton of resiliency against Minnesota’s run game, especially in the red zone. Minnesota’s got a huge offensive line that, especially after last week when the Gophers could barely get the run game going against Nebraska, was determined to control the ground game against EMU.
To Minnesota’s credit, the home side did a really great job of doing exactly what it wanted to do with the ball.
Sean Tyler, the former Western Michigan running back, had his personal-best day against EMU with 96 yards on 17 rushes, and true freshman Darius Taylor — friend of former EMU commit/Minnesota flip Drew Viotto — truly stole the show with his 193 rushing yards on 33 carries and 1 touchdown.
Their quarterback, Athan Kaliakmanis, only had to throw the ball 15 times this week unlike the 44 attempts he had against Nebraska. Kaliakmanis completed 10 passes for 117 yards, no scores and one interception. His busiest target was Corey Crooms, the other former WMU Bronco on Minnesota’s offense, with 3 catches for 45 yards.
Steady run after steady run, Minnesota picked up 28 first downs, 296 rushing yards (5.3 avg.) as a team, was 8 of 13 on third downs, and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage four times (one sack by Mikah Coleman) on its 71 plays ran (5.6% TFL allowed rate). Minnesota finished the game with an explosive play rate of just 3% too.
For EMU’s defense, Sparacio led the team with 14 total tackles, one for loss. Kline had nine tackles for EMU. T.J. Peavy, with 6 tackles, had a TFL and a pass breakup; true freshman Daiquan White had a pass breakup as well.
Minnesota’s defensive line too much for EMU’s young line
Aside from Alex Howie and Brian Dooley on the right side, EMU’s breaking in some new starters along the offensive line. Even with the experience, getting EMU’s front five to continually defend the quality of Minnesota’s defensive line was always going to be a tall task.
EMU’s offense last night ran 42 plays for 152 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per play.
Because Kyler Baugh had two sacks and a pass breakup. Because guys like Maverick Baranowski and Tre’Von Jones each got to Smith as well. Defensive lineman Logan Richter also got his hand on one of Smith’s passes.
On EMU’s 42 plays on offense, Minnesota’s defense had 5 TFL and 4 sacks (11.9% TFL rate), 3 pass breakups, 1 interception, 2 QB hits, and limited EMU’s third-down offense to 3-for-10 on its conversion attempts.
Smith certainly had his hands fully against Minnesota’s defensive pressure. The defensive line didn’t need a ton of blitzing help and the coverage, at first glance, seemed to repeatedly force Smith away his first and second-best options.
That’s not to say Smith didn’t play an excellent game if not for the defense in front of him. The defensive play does explain some of Smith’s stat line — 9 completions on 20 throws for 71 yards (3.55 Y/A), and -12 net rushing yards because of the sacks against him — but a few of Smith’s misfires were well off-target to some wide-open receivers.
He overthrew Mitchell wide-open down the sideline in the first quarter, then underthrew Jaylon Jackson on a swing route. But Smith’s biggest miss came on EMU’s final drive of the first half when he overthrew Tanner Knue by a yard or two on a deep ball, that fell just inside Minnesota’s 5-yard line.
Smith’s longest completion happened early in the second quarter while Baugh laid a big hit on the QB, and it lobbed it into the bread basket of tight end Blake Daniels for a 29-yard gain and a first-down pickup. Eastern finished the 9-play, 73-yard drive with a 20-yard field goal from Jesus Gomez, then got a second field goal out of Gomez (37 yards) to end the second quarter.
Knue finished as EMU’s leading receiver with 4 catches on 7 targets, just 21 yards gained. Daniels caught two passes for 33 total yards.
In a better situation, I”m sure EMU would’ve liked to have run the ball more than it did. Samson Evans led the squad with 67 carries on 10 carries, and Jackson added 19 yards on 3 handles. Statistically, it might look like something was there (EMU in 80th percentile in EPA/Rush), but it didn’t seem like the O-line won enough battles up front to give this offense a real shot of winning by continually running the ball.
Final Notes, Stats
Success rate: EMU ran successful plays 36% of the time, Minnesota finished at 53%.
Havoc rate: This includes TFLs, fumbles, interceptions, and pass breakups. EMU’s defense finished in the 76th percentile with a Havoc rate of 14%, and Minnesota finished with 8%. The good in this number comes from all the stops made in the red zone to prevent more than one touchdown scored against it. The bad is everything that led Minnesota into the red zone six times.
Yards/Play: EMU finished with an average of 3.62 yards per play, Minnesota finished with an average of 5.74.
MIN defensive rotation: In large part because of the low number of plays EMU ran on offense, Minnesota’s defense only rotated in three players off the bench.
Penalties: EMU was flagged 8 times for 75 yards lost. What makes this stat line so different is that EMU was penalized twice for illegal substitution/12 men on the field. Once before the first play of the second half was played, and another before an EMU punt.
Punting: Mitchell Tomasek had four punts for 189 yards (47.2 average) with a long of 57 and two stopped inside the 20.