What to know after Minnesota’s 30-24 Quick Lane Bowl win over Bowling Green yesterday in Detroit:
No Darius Taylor, no seventh straight bowl win for the Golden Gophers.
And guess what? No Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) earnings, no Darius.
Taylor ran 35 times for 208 yards, including a fourth quarter TD that proved to be the winning margin. The true freshman, who was limited to six games this year because of injury, carried the load for an offense that totaled 281 yards.
Coach P.J. Fleck said after the game “we put the team on his shoulders.” Quarterback Cole Kramer, also talking on the KFAN Radio postgame show, said of Taylor: “…He’s a beast. He can be someone that you can count on, and I am very proud of him.”
Gopher fans in the know might say: keep Phil Knight away from the phenom who is the Quick Lane Bowl MVP. Knight, the Nike founder, is a generous benefactor of Oregon athletics and NIL in Eugene.
Remember 2021 Gopher freshman running back Bucky Irving who left Dinkytown after one season? He reportedly received a sweet NIL deal at Oregon and was a star for the Ducks the last two seasons.
A lot of Gophers fans still haven’t bought into NIL but it’s a reality. Without the efforts of local collective Dinkytown Athletes, Minnesota wouldn’t be retaining its better players starting with Taylor who likely tops the money list. The Gophers and their collective can’t match the money of many Power Five teams but there’s substantial progress being made by DA which launched less than 18 months ago.
In the uncertain environment of college football roster stability is more difficult than ever to maintain. Who is on board can change week to week during the periods when the transfer portal is open, but for now the Gophers can be thankful that Taylor has remained loyal to Minnesota.
Taylor, who humbly praised his teammates after yesterday’s performance, will be option No. 1 for the offense next season. Fleck even used him in the Wildcat offense for the first time in the bowl game. The Gophers practiced with Taylor throwing the ball, although he didn’t toss it yesterday.
A key question next season will be how to find balance between too many and too few carries per game for Taylor who excels with niftiness, strength and speed. Fleck’s offenses love to run the ball, go on long scoring drives, and eat up game time. When games are close in the fourth quarter, the tendency is to run the star tailback (see Mo Ibrahim film) over and over.
The Gophers will invite a high risk of Taylor becoming injured if they choose to duplicate his 35 carries yesterday in all 12 games next season. Ohio transfer Sieh Bangura, a preseason choice for All-MAC and 2022 MAC Freshman of the Year, presumably will receive a dozen or so carries per game.
Fleck will protect Taylor in the offseason including during spring football and preseason training camp. The Detroit native missed seven games but still led the team in rushing yards with 808 and average per game at 133.17. He was selected Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times.
Taylor’s returns will help sell tickets for next season as will one of the more attractive home schedules in recent memory. Iowa, North Carolina, Penn State and USC come to Minneapolis.
The Gophers trailed 10-9 at halftime but got much better production from the offensive line in the second half. All the unit’s starters are back next season except for center Nathan Boe.
Left tackle Aireontae Ersery is one of the nation’s highest graded run blockers. He was second team All-Big Ten in 2023 and should be an All-American candidate in 2024.
True freshman guard Greg Johnson, from Prior Lake, played a lot of minutes off the bench and is a future star.
Fleck is 5-0 in bowl games at Minnesota. He has a strategy and philosophy on how to approach those games but doesn’t offer details to the media.
Fleck’s attention now will be the interviewing process to hire a new defensive coordinator. It’s likely some candidates are with bowl teams. A new hire could be announced by around January 10.