Rashod Bateman was the biggest name on the field when the Gophers football team faced off against Michigan in Saturday’s Big Ten season opener.
Only you didn’t hear his name much to start.
Unfortunately for the No. 21 Gophers, by the time they unleased “Agent Zero” on the No. 18 Wolverines, it was too late in a 49-24 loss at TCF Bank Stadium.
Bateman, a top-tier NFL wide receiver prospect who returned to the program after initially opting out early during the pandemic, entered halftime Saturday with six catches for only 26 yards.
The 6-2, 210-pound junior surpassed that with catches for 25 and 38 yards in the third quarter, finishing with a game-high nine catches for 101 yards. But his late impact made little difference on the outcome.
The other receivers, though, only combined for one catch.
“They did a good job in their coverages with their disguises and stuff taking away certain things,” Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “We just have to execute better.”
A majority of Michigan’s attention in the secondary focused not surprisingly on the Gophers’ reigning All-America selection, especially without the presence of another all-league receiver to share the load.
Tyler Johnson, the Gophers’ All-time leading receiver, is now a promising rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even scoring his first NFL touchdown last week. P.J. Fleck and company could’ve used him, too, Saturday.
TV announcers talked often about how much the Wolverines were “bracketing” Bateman with two defenders most of the night. That helped Chris Autumn-Bell get open for a 45-yard catch in the first half.
But Autman-Bell, the No. 3 option the previous two years, wouldn’t catch another pass the rest of the evening.
On the Gophers’ first drive of the third quarter, quarterback Tanner Morgan had two completions for 40 yards, including the 25-yarder to Bateman on a nifty cutback move to the outside away from double coverage. That led to a scoring run from Mohamed Ibrahim to cut it to 35-23 Michigan with 9:36 left.
That was the last time Bateman’s second half success helped the Gophers cut into their growing deficit.
After falling behind 42-24, the Gophers strung a potential scoring drive together, highlighted by Bateman’s next-level catch. The Georgia native drew a pass interference on Michigan’s Vincent Gray, who tried dragging him down to negate a big play.
Bateman still hauled in the 38-yard pass play after backpedaling and falling backward. Morgan hoped to finish off the series through the air, but he later missed Bateman and Ibrahim in the end zone on third and fourth down, respectively.
“When you look at Tanner, I thought it was inconsistent,” Fleck said. “I wouldn’t call it bad. I wouldn’t call it great.”
The Gophers welcomed a new offensive coordinator with Mike Sanford Jr., who vowed to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game.
Tight end Ko Kieft had two catches for 29 yards, which included opening the game with a 14-yard touchdown catch. The only other players besides Kieft, Bateman and Autman-Bell to catch passes were running backs.