Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis receiving valuable on-the-job training
The redshirt freshman has been on the field for 220 plays this season
MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers offense was missing an important player during a meeting near the sideline in the 31-3 win over Northwestern on Saturday. Head coach P.J. Fleck looked around and asked, “Where’s the quarterback?”
Athan Kaliakmanis was out of sight from the mass of teammates and coaches but the hard-to-miss, 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman was nearby, warming up his big right arm for the next offensive series.
Over the past four years, Fleck has grown accustomed to sixth-year veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan being right beside him during those prepping sessions. It’s just one example of how Kaliakmanis is figuring out what his game-day routines will be going forward.
With Morgan working his way back from an “upper-body” injury, it’s unclear whether Morgan or Kaliakmanis will start when Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) plays Iowa (6-4, 4-3) in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.
If Kaliakmanis receives his second straight home start, he will get a chance to refine his still-forming habits and routines. He will also look to become crisper with some of his throws.
After the blowout win over Northwestern, Fleck pointed to two missed throws from Kaliakmanis that would have improved his paltry passing numbers (7 for 13 for 64 yards, no touchdowns).
In the second quarter, a Kaliakmanis pass slipped out of his hand and he was off target on a crossing route to Mike Brown-Stephens. Two series later, Kaliakmanis threw behind Dylan Wright on a post route. Fleck said both of those could have ended up being explosive plays and possibly even touchdowns.
“How do you respond when you have an incompletion that is one that you know you are going to hit it 19 out of 20 times?” Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said. “Does that … put you into a little bit of a shell? Or when you miss one like that, do you sit there and smile and say I’m going to hit the next 19 of them?
“That is how I want the quarterback to respond when they miss a throw, especially one as talented as he is,” Ciarrocca continued. “That takes some time and growth to get to that mentality.”
Kaliakmanis was a bit flustered in his first serious action when Morgan suffered a concussion against Illinois on Oct. 15. But he drew praise for his poise when he knew he was going to start in front of a White Out crowd of 109,813 fans at Penn State on Oct. 22.
During and after the Northwestern win, Kaliakmanis displayed a hunger to get better, Fleck and Ciarrocca said. But he’s also showing his gregarious personality.
“He loves the game and he’s supporting the defense. At one point he was doing the bushwacker (celebration) with the defense,” Fleck said. “All right, that’s awesome. I love that about the quarterback … get fired up. (But) now you got to get back on the field.”
Maybe earlier in the drive while the Gophers defense is on the field, he should be keeping his arm warm and loose, then he can watch the defense for a third-down conversion, then he can be in Fleck’s hip pocket as they get ready for the ensuing offensive series.
It’s about finding that balance. “You interject when you can because you don’t want any robots,” Fleck said. “The great thing about Athan is he is own person. I want him to be himself. And same thing with Tanner. I want you to be yourself.”
Kaliakmanis has gotten valuable time to figure out what is best for him.
Up and coming
Minnesota’s underclassmen offensive players among the Gophers' top 22 players in snap counts this season:
OT Aireontae Ersery — 648
WR Daniel Jackson — 418
WR Le’Meke Brockington — 289
QB Athan Kaliakmanis — 220
OT Martes Lewis — 63
TE Jameson Geers — 57
Notes: Underclassmen are players in their first, second or third season; Minnesota has run 702 offensive plays so far in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus.
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