MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Darius Taylor ran for 193 of Minnesota’s 296 yards and a touchdown, and the Gophers pulled away in the second half to beat Eastern Michigan 25-6 Saturday night.
Sean Tyler added 93 yards on the ground for Minnesota, which had just 55 rushing yards in last week’s season-opening 13-10 win against Nebraska.
“The whole motto this week was, “Get better, be better,” said coach P.J. Fleck. “We said we’re gonna get better in the run game from game one to game two. Check. We said we were gonna play better defense. Check. We had two things every kid on the team had to get better at fundamentally. For the most part, they all got better at those.”
Early in the year, Minnesota (2-0) is seeking how to best replace Mohamed Ibrahim, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Sixth-year running back Bryce Williams did not play, leaving plenty of opportunities for Tyler and Taylor.
Tyler ran for 2,820 yards the past four seasons at Western Michigan and had 10 carries for 41 yards against the Cornhuskers.
After just one carry for 3 yards last week, Taylor’s total is the second-most by a Minnesota freshman. Darrell Thompson ran for 205 against Bowling Green in 1986.
“Coming into the game I just knew I had to fall back on my fundamentals. We talked a lot about that throughout the week, make sure I’m securing the ball, reading the right guy,” Taylor said.
“He’s worked extremely hard. He’s a guy that got here and put on weight. That just showed me that this guy’s willing to do whatever it takes to play and win. You see the way he runs, he wants it,” said quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis.
A dynamic 1-2 punch against the Eagles, the duo combined for 48 yards during an 11-play, 93-yard second-quarter drive — aided by two pass interference penalties on Eastern Michigan — before Taylor scored from the 2.
The pair added 67 yards during a 75-yard third-quarter drive that ended in a short field goal. Taylor had 28 yards on a later drive capped by a 1-yard sneak from Kaliakmanis for a 19-6 lead.
Eastern Michigan (1-1), a program with four wins over Power Five teams since 2017, got 73 rushing yards from Samson Evans. Austin Smith was 9-of-20 passing for 71 yards. Jesús Gómez had 20- and 37-yard field goals. The Eagles did not have a first down in the second half and had a punt blocked for a safety.
“They played their style of ball, and we were hoping to be able to get them out of that by getting off to an early lead and not let them control the game with the run game,” said Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton. “… It was almost 40 minutes to 20 minutes of time of possession, so we just didn’t give them you know enough of the breather and then in the second half, we weren’t able to match scores.”
In addition to Williams, Minnesota again played without linebacker Cody Lindenberg, the team’s top returning tackler from last season. “He was close,” Fleck said. Seventh-year wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who played one snap against Nebraska as he works his way back from knee surgery, did not play.
NO LONG KICK RETURNS
Eastern Michigan’s Jaylon Jackson and Hamze El-Zayat, who each ran back a kickoff in last week’s 33-23 season opening win against Howard, had no opportunities because all six Minnesota kickoffs went through the end zone.
Eastern Michigan: The Eagles need to shore up a run defense that has allowed an average of 250 yards on the ground in its first two games. FCS-member Howard had 204 last week.
Minnesota: After seeing Kaliakmanis throw 44 times against Nebraska, Minnesota found some much-needed success on the ground. The Gophers need to be better at finishing drives. In its first four trips to the red zone, including twice inside the 5, Minnesota managed just one touchdown and two field goals. “That’ll be better,” Kaliakmanis said.
Eastern Michigan: Home against Massachusetts on Saturday.
Minnesota: At No. 17 North Carolina on Saturday for the first meeting between the schools.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll