‘Committee’ Likely to Replace Mo Ibrahim
Golden Gophers’ All-American running back Mo Ibrahim, who is the focus of his team’s offensive success, plays his last regular season game Saturday against Wisconsin. Next season who replaces the player coach P.J. Fleck calls “arguably” the greatest running back in school history?
Ryan Burns, the Gopher football authority from GopherIllustrated.com, sees a lot of names potentially in the mix, including Trey Potts and Bryce Williams who both have remaining eligibility but aren’t certain to return. Potts had a devastating injury that caused him to miss most of last season and may have an ongoing health concern, while Williams has been in the program since 2018 but given limited opportunities to play.
Ibrahim has been a workhorse with 277 carries this season in 10 games, including 39 against Iowa last Saturday. Potts and Williams have 90 and 48 carries respectively.
“There’s gonna be a lot of carries up for grabs (next year),” Burns told Sports Headliners. “I just think there’s a lot of ambiguity in terms of who is back (returning), who is not. It wouldn’t surprise me…(if something happens) with Trey Potts or Bryce Williams (not returning), but I think there’s definitely going to be more of a committee next year than there is this year.”
While no one is publicly disclosing what Potts’ injury was last season, Burns described it as “scary.” Of late Potts seems more decisive and running better than earlier in the season. “He’s gotten more…back to form the last few games but I don’t know what he’ll decide to do after the season,” Burns said before last Saturday’s game against Iowa.
Burns doesn’t predict Potts will transfer, but sees that as a possibility for Williams whose other options are remaining a Gopher, or ending his college career. Likely remaining on the running back roster for sure is freshman Zach Evans who after being injured and unavailable earlier in the season has played briefly in one game teasing the potential that made him a coveted recruit coming out of Texas. He ran six times for 29 yards against Northwestern.
“I think the highest upside of those guys on the roster is Zach Evans,” Burns said. “You saw a little flash of it (against Northwestern)…where he’s got a little make you miss in his game. Kind of reminds me a little bit of a David Cobb (former Gopher) type. …”
In the 247Sports recruiting listings for 2023 two of the Gophers’ higher ranked recruits are running backs, Darius Taylor from Walled Lake, Michigan and Marquese Williams of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Both have made verbal commitments and could move up from three-star to four-star status by National Signing Day December 21.
Taylor, who is about 5-11 and 200 pounds, has a late offer from Michigan but paid his own way to attend the Minnesota-Iowa game. “When a recruit spends his way to comeback for a game that’s usually a good sign,” Burns said.
Burns likens Taylor’s power running to former Gopher Ky Thomas, now at Kansas. “He’s more your north-south guy, while Marquese Williams is more your east-west type like a Bucky (Irving now at Oregon) would be. He’s a smaller type of kid (Williams), 5-8, 180. So you have a north-south guy to go with an east -west guy, and then you have Zach Evans who can do maybe a little bit more of both.”
Ibrahim is Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 263 yards and one touchdown against Iowa whose nationally praised defense has held eight opponents to 10 points or fewer this season. Ibrahim’s rushing yards Saturday led the nation last week and they were also the fourth highest in Minnesota program history. He leads the country in rushing touchdowns (19), rushing yards per game (152.4) and is second in total rushing yards (1,524).
The Gophers are trying to improve their pass catching roster. Former Wisconsin wide receiver Markus Allen, a redshirt freshman who left the Badgers last month, attended the Northwestern game earlier in the month. “They really want to add him,” Burns said of Allen who has contested catch potential.
Minnesota’s passing game has faltered this season and Burns sees a need to recruit two types of receivers. “You need one guy for speed and one guy to catch contested catches. …”
The Gophers could have all their main targets return next season, including No. 1 WR Chris Autman-Bell and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford. “If they can’t find consistency amongst a bunch of guys 21 and older, I don’t know when you can,” Burns said.
Ibrahim had a key fourth quarter fumble in Saturday’s 13-10 loss to Iowa. Fleck said it was only the fourth fumble in 800 carries for Ibrahim who is in his sixth year at Minnesota. “It’s not his fault. No one play loses you the game,” Fleck said.
The Gophers, who like Iowa didn’t have a penalty in the rivalry game, had other key miscues including quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis’ fourth quarter interception and a near interception of an Iowa pass by defensive back Terrell Smith. Despite Minnesota’s eighth consecutive loss to the Hawkeyes, Fleck believes narrow losses in the series indicate his program has “closed the gap” with Iowa in various ways.
During Thanksgiving week, Fleck went into detail about the importance of gratitude. “If you’re grateful for your life, you don’t get to pick what you’re grateful for. You’re either grateful for your life or you’re not—whether it comes from the tragedy or the suffering—you have to be grateful for those things. And that’s what’s so hard because we get way down with a loss, we get way up with a win…. I am not saying I am happy we lost but there are so many lessons that come out of it.”
Fleck wouldn’t say what starters may not be able to play against Wisconsin but word is senior quarterback Tanner Morgan, who has missed the last two games, is likely out again.
Iowa is known as a development program but it’s interesting that the Hawkeyes had 45 former players on NFL rosters as of early November. Since 2010, 50 Hawkeyes have been drafted. The Gophers have 16 players in the NFL as of this month.
Gophersguru.com’ Daniel House told Sports Headliners a key for the Gophers Saturday at Wisconsin will be forcing the Badgers into passing situations, an area they struggle with. House excels at crunching data and said numbers show the Gophers are efficient against the pass. He also believes Minnesota needs to make four or five important pass plays on offense.
House predicts a 21-17 Minnesota win. “I think the first team that gets to 20 points will win. I do believe there will be more points scored in this game than the Iowa-Minnesota game.”
The Vikings, whose offensive line was ravaged by the Cowboys in Sunday’s 40-3 loss and gave up seven sacks, are expected to be without standout left tackle Christian Darrisaw who is in concussion protocol. The Patriots, who play the Vikings Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, will be another challenge for Minnesota’s line that will be likely playing with two inexperienced starters in Blake Brandel, Darrisaw’s replacement, and right guard Ed Ingram who has struggled against pressures all season.
Injured Patriots center David Andrews is expected to miss Thursday night’s game. In passing situations, House said, that could offer opportunity for Vikings’ pass rushing specialist Za’Darius Smith to pressure New England QB Mac Jones.
“He (Jones) completes 75 precent of his passes from a clean pocket and that number drops to 45 percent when under pressure,” House said. “He also has five interceptions and just one touchdown in those situations. “
House, who does in depth analysis on the Vikings, thinks Minnesota will “get it together” in the second half and win 24-10.
Bethel senior quarterback Jaran Roste is the MIAC Offensive Player of the Year. Saint John’s senior defensive lineman Michael Wozniak is MIAC Defensive Player of the Year. Gustavus senior defensive lineman Zachary Jakes is the Mike Stam Award winner, presented to the top lineman in the conference, and Bethel first-year defensive back Devin Williams is the inaugural MIAC Football Rookie of the Year. Saint John’s head coach Gary Fasching is the John Gagliardi Coach of the Year Award. All MIAC awards are nominated by and voted on by MIAC head football coaches.
The NFL Films segment featuring Shakopee’s Dick Jonckowski’s debuts tomorrow night (Wednesday) on Fox Sports. Jonckowski relives moments from the famous 1975 Vikings-Cowboys game at Metropolitan Stadium. Drew Pearson, who caught the famous “Hail Mary” touchdown pass in the final minute to give the Cowboys a 17-14 fourth quarter win in the NFC title game, is featured in the film, too.
Jonckowski was a field usher at Met Stadium for that game and on a controversial catch by Pearson before the “Hail Mary” he kicked the Cowboys’ wide receiver on the sidelines.
“I was frustrated,” Jonckowski told Sports Headliners earlier this year. “I just kind of (gave) a sissy kick. I kicked the bottom of Drew Pearson’s shoe which really wasn’t much, but (Dallas coach) Tom Landry’s wife saw it from the stands. After the game was over, she called Pete Rozelle, who was then the commissioner.”
The segment will also air December 5 at 9:30 p.m. on the NFL Network.