The calendar read April 22 but the weather that greeted the Twin Cities on Saturday morning — snow flurries, temperatures in the low 30s and gusty northwest winds — suggested late November. That all combined to make the Gophers football program's midweek decision of moving the spring game from Huntington Bank Stadium to the indoor practice facility perfectly understandable, even if it meant the event wouldn't be open to the public.
Once indoors, the Gophers — with their roster divided into Maroon and Gold teams with some intermingling at certain positions — put on an entertaining performance in front of parents and alumni on the sideline.
The Gold squad won 36-34 on Zach Evans' two-point conversion run to cap a modified overtime session, but spring games are all about how individuals looked, given the reality that starting talent was spread between the teams. Here are some takeaways:
1. The quarterbacks
The Gophers played three of them: presumptive starter Athan Kaliakmanis, veteran backup Cole Kramer and early enrollee freshman Drew Viotto.
Of the three, Kramer, the fifth-year junior from Eden Prairie, looked the sharpest. According to unofficial statistics compiled by the Big Ten Network, Kramer completed 11 of 16 passes for 288 yards and staked the Gold to an early 14-0 lead on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Nubin, a safety making a cameo at wideout, and a long connection with Le'Meke Brockington to set up another TD. In the fourth quarter, Kramer's 69-yard hookup with Brockington tied the score 31-31.
Kaliakmanis had a sluggish start as the Maroon team went three-and-out on its first three possessions. He got better later and scored on an 8-yard option keeper to cut the Gold's lead to 21-14 just before halftime. Kaliakmanis finished 13-for-19 for 188 yards.
"I really liked the development of both of them,'' coach P.J. Fleck said. "Cole had a really good day today. Athan got into rhythm, and I thought he got into some really amazing big-time throws.''
The biggest for Kaliakmanis was a 21-yard fade to Elijah Spencer in the left corner of the end zone to tie the score 24-24.
2. The wide receivers
Brockington, one of the three Sid Hartman Spring Game MVPs along with Evans and Nubin, and Spencer stood out among the wideouts, giving the Gophers hope that they'll have depth to go with budding star Daniel Jackson and rehabbing leader Chris Autman-Bell.
A sophomore who was the hero of last year's win at Wisconsin, Brockington caught eight passes for 181 yards, delivering the tying 69-yard TD reception.
Spencer, a transfer from Charlotte, became Kaliakmanis' favorite target, catching 11 passes for 133 yards, most of them on slants that the Gold defense couldn't handle.
"That's why you have a spring game: You get to watch their competitiveness come out,'' Fleck said.
3. The running backs
Minnesota's running back group was thin because of injuries during spring practice sessions but was mainly healthy Saturday. Fleck limited the carries of Bryce Williams and Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler, which enabled the coach to take long looks at Evans and early enrollee Darius Taylor. They didn't disappoint.
Evans carried 13 times for 110 yards and two TDs for the Gold, including a 75-yard score in which he juked his way past safety Coleman Bryson and raced to the end zone.
Taylor (seven carries, 48 yards) put the Maroon up 31-24 with five minutes remaining on a 2-yard TD run. He caught Fleck's attention a play earlier with a hard-nosed run in which he gained 10 yards and barreled into defensive back Aidan Gousby.
"We got a chance to see the physicality,'' Fleck said. "Darius had some really good runs. He put his shoulder down, ran some people over.''
4. The kicker
Placekicker Dragan Kesich was called upon to kick for both the Maroon and Gold teams, and his 48-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter put the Gold up 34-31. Then with 10 seconds left, he tied the score with a 46-yarder for the Maroon. Earlier, he hit from 31 and 39 yards.
The left-footed Kesich has excelled as the Gophers' kickoff specialist. Now, he appears to have the inside track over Ball State transfer Jacob Lewis for the placekicking role.
"I feel like I can bring a lot to the team and help our team win games,'' Kesich said.
5. The coach's conclusion
Fleck mentioned that his roster might not be set, that there could be movement because of the transfer portal. But he came away impressed with what his players accomplished during spring football.
"This has been by far the hardest spring we've had, from workload to consistency with pads and what we've done,'' he said. "… Hard doesn't mean bad; it just means we had a lot of work to do. We have to grow up as a football team very quickly.''