Nov. 26, 2022: It certainly was not pretty, but Minnesota was able to finish 2022 on a high note knocking off Wisconsin 23-16, and retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
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- First-Quarter: In what has become somewhat of a trend, the Gophers’ defense started slow, allowing a Wisconsin FG on the opening drive of the game. This seemed to motivate the offense, as Athan Kaliakmanis drove down the field and found Daniel Jackson for a TD regaining a 7-3 lead.
- Second-Quarter: Right when it looked like the Gophers were driving in for another score, Coach Fleck decided to be aggressive, QB sneaking behind John Michael Schmitz on a 4th & short, but came up short giving the ball back to the Badgers. Wisconsin took advantage, adding a FG, cutting Minnesota’s lead to 7-6. The Gophers responded with a late-half drive down the field. Failing to add a touchdown, Matthew Trickett converted a field goal and the Maroon & Gold led 10-6 heading into the break.
- Third-Quarter: Minnesota came out of the half-strong driving down the field. As it looked like they would go for another 4th & short, P.J. Fleck opted for a timeout and a 50-yard FG, where Matthew Trickett converted the longest kick of his career, giving the Gophers a 13-6 lead. The Badgers’ offense responded again with another three points, cutting the lead to 13-9. Minnesota’s offense continued to struggle, and Wisconsin took advantage finding the endzone and taking a 16-13 lead into the final quarter of play.
- Fourth-Quarter: The Gophers opened the final quarter of play with another long drive capped off by a Matthew Trickett evening the game at 19. As the defense settled in forcing back-to-back Wisconsin three and outs, Athan Kaliakmanis broke out with a 45-yard TD pass to fellow redshirt freshman Le’Meke Brockington giving the Maroon & Gold a 23-16 lead. It looked like a Justin Walley INT sealed the game, but Wisconsin had one more chance until ultimately falling short 23-16.
Instant Reaction & Takeaways:
This game was how P.J. Fleck wants it to look for the Gophers vs. Wisconsin. He has clearly shown that he wants to play this style of football in big games. I will admit, he called a slightly more aggressive game than last week against Iowa and that was ultimately the difference. Overall, the Gophers played a very similar game, this time they just got a few more bounces to go their way.
In a game where Mohamed Ibrahim failed to record 100 yards, Athan Kaliakmanis took the offense over. With 319 passing yards and two touchdowns, he showed his full repertoire of what he can be at the QB position. Minnesota’s pass catchers had arguably their best game of the season. Dylan Wright had a career-high 86 yards and Brevyn Spann-Ford had 7 catches for 95 yards. The Gophers played a complete football game and it resulted in a much-needed win.
Rivalry games in college football matter. For example, Ohio State’s Ryan Day has been one of the best coaches in CFB, but I would believe there are a lot of realistic Buckeyes fans calling for his head after falling to Michigan for a second straight time. P.J. Fleck has now beaten Wisconsin back-to-back times the first time Minnesota has done that since 1993-94. That is a massive feather in his cap. I honestly don’t care what else he’s done, I have seen the Gophers beat Wisconsin four times in my 21 years of life, so doing it in back-to-back seasons is a massive statement for where this program is at.
What is next?:
That wraps up the 2022 regular season. In a year where the Big Ten West was WIDE OPEN, the Gophers finish 8-4 and fall short in their race for division supremacy. Ultimately this season is eerily similar to 2021, 8-4 with a loss to Iowa and a win against Wisconsin, but it seems almost more disappointing. Nobody seemed to really want to win the West this season, and after seeing Iowa and Purdue struggle this week, it is even more disappointing to see the Gophers not have a championship to prep for next week.
Minnesota was favored in 10 of its 12 games this season. This was supposed to be the year P.J. Fleck broke through the Big Ten Championship and he did not. A realistic fan can realize that this program is in a much better spot than Fleck arrived, but they can also be disappointed that he did not capitalize on a major opportunity this season. Early National Signing day is 25 days away and the Gophers’ Bowl Game will probably be around the same time. I personally don’t believe the result of a bowl game or even the game they play in will have much of an impact on the Gophers’ season.
There was plenty of stuff to like this year, Athan Kaliakmanis is the future of the program, Mohamed Ibrahim had a season for the ages and this team beat Wisconsin for the second-straight year. This program is in a fine place, they’re giving fans plenty to root for, but it’s still fair to say that 2022 was a massive disappointment and a giant missed opportunity.