The Gophers entered the season with hopes of going to Indianapolis for a chance to win a Big Ten title. Why were the aspirations so high? The Gophers brought back some key contributors on both sides of the ball, other teams in the division had weaknesses, and the schedule was pretty favorable.
Many had Minnesota finishing in the upper half of the division before the season started, but Minnesota fans knew the Big Ten West was open to winning.
The season didn’t go the way many wanted, but Minnesota still finished with nine wins. That would make it three full seasons in a row in which Minnesota finishes with nine wins.
The question is, though, was this the most disappointing season in Fleck’s tenure at Minnesota?
Let’s grade the 2022 Gophers team.
Offensive Line: B+
Led by All-American and Remington finalist John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota finished the regular season 11th in the nation in rushing. Overall, the unit allowed just 15 sacks, which finished 18th overall in the country. Michigan transfer Chuck Filiaga played well, and Notre Dame transfer Quinn Carroll got better as the season went along. Offensive line coach Brian Callahan will lose his star center after this season, along with a few other starters.
Running Backs: A-
If we are grading just Mo Ibrahim, then it would be an easy A+. Mo Ibrahim finished the regular season owning most of the program’s rushing records. His 2022 season was one of his best; his 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns were season records. After Mo, we saw Trey Potts and Bryce Williams come in, with Preston Jelen and Zach Evans seeing little action as well. Potts and Williams were both coming off major injuries that sidelined them last season. They both had their moments this season. Consider the position open for the 2023 season.
Outside of tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, this was the most inconsistent group on the team. The tight end led the team in catches with 47 and touchdowns with five. I have no idea how he didn’t end up getting recognition after the season. No doubt, losing Chris Autman-Bell in the third game of the season hurt the Gophers. Dylan Wright wasn’t much of a factor during the season, and Michael Brown-Stephens had his struggles with drops and getting open. Wright has the talent and abilities to be a huge playmaker. Daniel Jackson finished the year strong, with nine catches, 159 yards, and three touchdowns in the last two games. The Gophers have already hit the portal to address the wide receiver unit for 2023.
It’s hard to grade this position group as the Gophers saw two players with two different skill sets and game experience start under center in 2022. In his final year of eligibility, veteran Tanner Morgan struggled with consistency. While his receivers struggled to help him, Morgan wasn’t having the year everyone hoped for before he got injured against Nebraska. He finished with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Athan Kaliakmanis would replace him and give Minnesota fans a glimpse into an exciting future. Athan would go 2-2 as a starter, including a victory over rival Wisconsin in Madison. Kaliakmanis had moments where he looked like a freshman, but we saw all the reasons he was rated a four-star quarterback with his mobility and arm strength.
Overall grade for the offense: B
Defensive Line: B
How would I grade the defensive line against the run? A. How would I grade them against the pass? C.
This leads me to give them an overall B grade. The team finished 16th in the nation in rushing yards allowed, but they struggled getting to the quarterback. Their 19 team sacks ranked 118th in the nation. One bright spot was the play of Jah Joyner, who shined in the second half of the season. The good news is that the majority of the unit should return next year.
Mariano Sori-Marin led the team with 88 total tackles, with fellow linebacker Cody Lindenberg coming in second with 71 total tackles. Sori-Marin developed into a great linebacker at Minnesota, it will be Lindenberg’s opportunity to lead the unit next year. The Gophers got strong play from Braelen Oliver, but his departure to the transfer portal after the season will make an impact. Junior Donald Willis will be counted on in 2023.
The strongest unit of the defense, Minnesota, secretly had one of the best secondaries in the conference. Led by safeties Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden, the Gophers allowed 186 passing yards per game, which is 15th best in the nation. Howden finished third on the team with 58 tackles. Cornerback Justin Walley had a strong sophomore year with three interceptions. The Gophers will lose Howden and Terrell Smith next year, but star safety Tyler Nubin has elected to come back.
Overall grade of the defense: A-
Special Teams: C
The special team’s unit is the definition of a mixed bag, Matthew Trickett finished the year going 15 for 18 in field goals and was perfect in extra points, going 46 for 46. He sure would love to have that 34-yard missed field goal in the Iowa game back. The punting game was abysmal.
Mark Crawford averaged 40.6 yards per punt, which was the 98th best in college football. Dragan Kesich did great with 59 touchbacks; only five teams in the nation had more. Quentin Redding averaged 25 yards on kickoff returns, with his longest being a 92-yard return against Penn State. The problem is that Minnesota rarely likes to return punts or kickoffs, so you have to take that into account as well.