Morgan injured again, Kaliakmanis leads rally as Gophers top Nebraska 20-13

Meet Athan Kaliakmanis, difference-maker. You already know Mohamed Ibrahim, chain-mover. Together, they made sure the Gophers left Nebraska with a victory rather than a discouraging loss.

Kaliakmanis, Minnesota's backup quarterback, replaced the injured Tanner Morgan to start the third quarter and led the Gophers back from a 10-point deficit and to a 20-13 victory over the Cornhuskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Ibrahim, the sixth-year senior running back, rushed 32 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He had only 18 yards at halftime but carried 24 times for 110 yards after intermission. In the process, Ibrahim posted his 17th consecutive 100-yard rushing game and his third 1,000-yard rushing season.

Kaliakmanis completed six of 12 passes for 137 yards and led two touchdown drives and two field goal marches for the Gophers (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten). He reintroduced the deep ball to the offense, hitting Daniel Jackson for a 48-yard gain and Dylan Wright for a 38-yarder.

"That's a gutsy win by a really good football team — ours,'' said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, whose team gained bowl eligibility for the fourth time in six years. "It was tough, it was gritty, it tested our character. We passed the test.''

Morgan, who went 6-for-8 for 38 yards, was sacked three times, the last on the final play of the first half. He missed the Oct. 22 game at Penn State because of a concussion, and Fleck termed this injury "upper body'' but didn't have specifics.

The Gophers defense helped the offense immensely after a slow start. Minnesota forced six consecutive three-and-outs — capped by Terell Smith's interception — from midway in the second quarter to early in the fourth. Nebraska (3-6, 2-4) had 151 total yards at halftime but only 116 after intermission.

"Our team's got an unbelievable response,'' said defensive end Thomas Rush, after the Gophers held the Huskers offense to 1-for-8 on third downs in the second half.

Gophers kicker Matthew Trickett had a standout day, nailing a 47-yarder into the wind and the go-ahead, season-long 49-yarder 58 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Gophers 20, Nebraska 13

The victory was the Gophers' fourth consecutive over Nebraska, and they ended a 32-game losing streak when trailing by double-digit points.

Saturday didn't start well for the Gophers, who saw the Huskers take a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Anthony Grant (21 carries, 115 yards) started it with a 36-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, leading to quarterback Chubba Purdy's 2-yard TD run. Timmy Bleekrode followed with a 24-yard field goal.

"We didn't come out the first half and play our style of football,'' Ibrahim said. "We understood that it's not acceptable.''

The script flipped after intermission, with Kaliakmanis giving the Gophers an instant jolt of energy.

Kaliakmanis gained 8 yards on a keeper on his first play. He then hit Jackson for 16 yards and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford for 9. The drive stalled, but Trickett's 47-yard field goal trimmed Nebraska's lead to 10-3.

"We had to get points on the first drive,'' Fleck said. "That was critical.''

They got more on their third drive of the second half, with Kaliakmanis leading the team to the tying touchdown. The redshirt freshman hit Jackson for a 45-yard gain to the Nebraska 41 and immediately followed with a 16-yard run. Kaliakmanis found Jackson for 13 yards to the 14, and Ibrahim did the rest with an 11-yard run and a 3-yard TD run to tie the score 10-10 with 3:20 left in the third quarter.

"The coaches came in at halftime and made great adjustments,'' Kaliakmanis said. "Just control the controllables, and that's exactly what we did.''

Minnesota's defense made it five consecutive three-and-outs forced, setting up Trickett's 49-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead with 14:02 left in the fourth quarter.

Smith intercepted Purdy, and the Gophers cashed that in with Ibrahim's 3-yard TD run for a 20-10 lead with 9:22 left. Ibrahim carried seven times for all 33 yards on the march.

Nebraska cut the lead to 20-13 with 4:49 to play, but Gophers held on, with Tyler Nubin breaking up a fourth-down pass with 1:13 left.

Afterward, Fleck spread the credit around, but was especially complimentary of his backup QB for his performance in front of 86,284.

"I said this back at Penn State: The 'White Out' was not going to be too big for him,'' Fleck said. "And neither was Lincoln, Nebraska. He's not rattled by those things.''

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.