Daniel Jackson's 66-yard catch Saturday against Purdue resembled plays from wide receiver standouts from the Gophers' past.
Similar to how Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson turned passes from Tanner Morgan into huge gains in recent years, Jackson picked up 50 yards after breaking a tackle late in the first quarter against the Boilermakers.
The speedy 6-foot junior from Kansas City had a career-best 110 yards on six receptions Saturday, including the team's longest play from scrimmage this season. Saturday's final score wasn't what any Gopher wanted — 20-10 Purdue, the team's first loss — but Jackson's emergence in the passing attack could be critical after the bye week.
The Gophers (4-1, 1-1 in the Big Ten) struggled in the run game without injured star Mohamed Ibrahim, who is expected to return from an ankle injury after this bye week. Their offense previously lost top receiver Chris Autman-Bell to a season-ending injury.
"Daniel Jackson's a really important player for us," coach P.J. Fleck said. "He hasn't played a ton of football yet, so he's gaining a lot of knowledge. We're going to rely on him heavily."
Jackson, who had 68 yards combined on five catches this season previously, had not been among the team's top five receiving leaders before Saturday. Michael Brown-Stephens, Dylan Wright and Clay Geary were all ahead of him in catches and yards.
Talented pass-catching tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford (14 catches for 220 yards) and Brown-Stephens (15 catches for 233 yards) are the U's leading receivers through five games, but Jackson has been coming on strong as of late.
In the Big Ten opening 34-7 win at Michigan State, Jackson hauled in two touchdowns from Morgan, including a spectacular catch falling backward into the end zone that made highlight reels.
Last weekend, Jackson's body control was impressive again on the long play vs. Purdue. He managed to stay on his feet after landing on a defender's back to get extra yards.
Jackson's talent has long been apparent. The former four-star recruit out of Bishop Miege in Kansas had 67 yards receiving against Wisconsin as a freshman in 2020. He caught 25 passes for 267 yards while starting eight games as a sophomore last year, including 58 yards against Ohio State, but he also missed games with a leg injury.
After starting his career mostly in the slot position, Jackson's been effective playing on the outside this year. Fleck called him a "dynamic player" because of his ability to be "really aggressive with the ball in his hands after the catch."
Even the Big Ten's leading receiver Charlie Jones took a backseat early Saturday to Jackson, who had four catches for 105 yards in the first half against the Boilermakers.
The Gophers failed to take advantage of Jackson's big play in the first half when four errant downs from the 10-yard line ended with a missed 28-yard field goal. But they finally got on the scoreboard after Jackson's 21-yard catch extended another drive that was capped by a 45-yard field goal to pull within 10-3 in the second quarter.
A potential game-tying drive just before halftime got extended after Jackson's 8-yard catch on third-and-3. Morgan then connected with Spann-Ford for 28 yards to get deep into Purdue territory. But the Gophers blew a chance for their first TD when the ball was intercepted after going through the hands of Brown-Stephens in the end zone.
"It's a play I'm seen him make hundreds of times," Spann-Ford said. "I know he'll make it next time. It's all about response in this program."
Morgan targeted Jackson nine times against Purdue, but he has spread the ball around in the two games without Autman-Bell. Fleck expects more consistency from his offense in their next game, Oct. 15 at Illinois, especially from his receivers.
"We've got to keep playing better," Fleck said. "Everybody's got to play to their standard and take that very personal. I know they will."