MINNEAPOLIS - Gophers football coach PJ Fleck confirmed on Monday that running back Bryce Williams suffered a left leg injury in Saturday’s 41-14 win at Northwestern that will likely sideline him the rest of the season.
Williams had two carries for nine yards in the game, and suffered the injury on an 18-yard catch and run for a first down during the first quarter. Williams immediately left the game and had to be carted to the locker room. He was eventually put in a wheelchair, unable to put any weight on his left leg, and didn’t return to the game.
"Bryce will not be available this week. It looks like it will be season-ending. It’s unfortunate, it’s just one of those years that that’s kind of got us right now. It’s the next man in, next man up," Fleck said Monday.
Williams, a redshirt junior, becomes the third Minnesota running back to suffer a season-ending injury. Mo Ibrahim got hurt against Ohio State, and Trey Potts suffered an undisclosed injury in Minnesota’s win at Purdue. Williams had 17 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska, and added 14 carries for 48 yards and a score in the Gophers’ win over Maryland.
Without Williams, the Gophers are down to two scholarship running backs in freshmen Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas. They also have Derik LeCaptain as an emergency running back, if needed. LeCaptain scored his first career touchdown on a 24-yard run in Saturday’s win at Northwestern.
Fleck said they are making contingency plans to add more depth to the running back room, but declined to go into further detail. Fleck joked he's diving into Pop Warner film of his players to see who they can add at running back.
"Everybody is on deck. I told the entire team, I said ‘Listen, if any of you ever carried a ball in any part of your career, if you have a picture with a button from the YMCA league with a ball in your hand and you’re chinning it properly, you’re going to be available possibly to run the football for us this year,'" Fleck said.
Irving was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday after having 19 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Wildcats. In Minnesota’s last two wins, Irving has 34 carries for 215 yards and three scores. For the season, he has 66 carries for 355 yards.
FLECK: GOPHERS FOCUSED ON ‘ILLINOIS CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON’
The Gophers enter November on a four-game win streak, and atop the Big Ten West at 4-1 by one game over Wisconsin. Minnesota hosts Illinois at 11 a.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. Two weeks ago, the Illini needed nine overtimes at Penn State to pull off a huge upset.
Saturday? They lost at home to Rutgers, 20-14. Minnesota’s remaining schedule still includes rivalry games at Iowa on Nov. 13, and against Wisconsin to end the regular season. A situation like this week is where Fleck’s "one game championship season" comes to the forefront. There’s no over-looking Illinois, with a date in Iowa City looming, not after losing at home to Bowling Green.
Fleck says he uses the preseason and the bye week to have the big picture conversations with his players.
"We don’t mention what’s ahead of us, we don’t mention a race. We had time in the preseason to talk about expectations of what we wanted to do. Then you just put your head down and you just row," Fleck said. "The whole main goal of this whole thing has been 1-0 championship season against Illinois. That’s the only thing this team is focusing on, and that’s the only thing we’ll let them. It’s human nature to look at external, but we continue to fight it every day. This is about fighting human nature the best you possibly can, and that internal has got to be way louder than the external."