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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Gophers traveled to North Carolina with visions of upsetting the 20th-ranked Tar Heels in Kenan Stadium, and to do so they had a checklist of things to accomplish.

After 3 hours, 35 minutes in front of 45,151 that included a sizable pro-Gophers contingent, coach P.J. Fleck's team left with a 31-13 loss and that checklist nearly untouched.

* Eliminate explosive plays by the Tar Heels and their star quarterback, Drake Maye.

That didn't happen, as Maye passed for 287 of his 414 yards in the first half, including gains of 46, 55 and 39 yards while North Carolina built a 21-10 lead. Maye finished 29-for-40 as the Tar Heels gained 519 total yards.

* Get more efficiency from quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and the offense so the Gophers wouldn't settle for field goals.

Nope, the Gophers scored one touchdown but kicked field goals of 23 and 45 yards when they needed seven points.

* Extend plays by gaining third downs on offense and force Maye and Co. off the field on defense.

That goal favored North Carolina in a big way. The Gophers (2-1) converted only three of 12 third-down situations, while the Tar Heels (3-0) moved the chains on 12 of their 17 attempts.

"We had our chances, had our opportunities, and even as bad as it was on both sides of the ball, we were in that game until a few minutes to go," Fleck said.

And he was correct in that assessment. Trailing 21-13 after Dragan Kesich's 45-yard field goal on the first possession of the third quarter, the Gophers got a defensive stop and a 28-yard run by true freshman Darius Taylor (22 carries, 138 yards, one TD) to jump-start a promising drive. They reached the Tar Heels 34 when backup QB Cole Kramer, in briefly for a cramping Kaliakmanis, threw an errant pass in the end zone that Armani Chatman intercepted.

"We didn't throw it anywhere near where we needed to throw it," Fleck said. "It's a tough situation to put Cole in."

North Carolina increased its lead to 24-13 with a field goal after the interception, but the Gophers followed with possessions that stalled at the Tar Heels 43 and the Minnesota 40.

Kaliakmanis had a rough day, going 11-for-29 for 133 yards with an interception. He wasn't helped by dropped balls and receivers slipping, but he blamed himself for the result.

"I didn't play as well as I wanted to play," the redshirt sophomore said. "This was probably the worst game I've ever played. … I fell short today. I let my teammates down."

While the Tar Heels put an exclamation point on the win with British Brooks' 1-yard TD run to cap an 11-play, 76-yard drive with 5:00 to play, the Gophers made uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half that had them playing catch-up the entire game.

Minnesota's defense built a reputation of shutting down big plays by the opponent over the past two years, ranking first nationally in fewest gains of 20 yards or more allowed in 2021 and eighth in 2022. On Saturday, two blown coverages were particularly glaring.

On its first possession, North Carolina faced third-and-12 when wide receiver Nate McCollum got behind safety Aidan Gousby and Maye hit him with a 46-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead. It was only the start of a big afternoon for McCollum, who caught 15 passes for 165 yards on 21 targets.

Then early in the second quarter, tight end Kamari Morales went uncovered over the middle for a 55-yard gain to the Gophers 1. Omarion Hampton scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead. The Gophers defense was confused with its personnel just before the ball was snapped, and Fleck took the blame.

"You put that one on me," he said. "I should have called timeout."

The Gophers also wasted first-half chances when they reached the North Carolina 25 only to have Kaliakmanis' pass go off tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford's hands and land in defensive back Power Echols' mitts for an interception. On consecutive Tar Heels possessions in the second quarter, both Jack Henderson and Chris Collins intercepted Maye, but the Gophers managed to get only Kesich's 23-yard field goal from the takeaways.

They did get a 75-yard drive capped by Taylor's 2-yard TD run just before halftime, but it wasn't enough.

Fleck lamented the lost opportunities and the mistakes but saw much with which to work going forward.

"Our team has a chance to be a top 25 team. I feel like we were a few plays away from being in that talk," he said. "We've got to go fix those few plays."