MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team didn’t get the result it wanted to open the 2021 season, losing to Ohio State 45-31 in front of a capacity crowd at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Fans returned for the first time in nearly two years, as did tailgating and all the pregame festivities, including the Ski-U-March. Football season is back and despite Thursday’s loss, Gophers fans should remain optimistic about the 2021 season.
Here are six takeaways from Thursday’s game.
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF MO IBRAHIM?
Mohamed Ibrahim had 163 yards and two touchdowns Thursday night, but had to leave the game late in the third quarter with a left leg injury and did not return. The Buckeyes had no answer for Ibrahim, the reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year. He spent several minutes in the on-field medical tent before heading to the locker room with a boot on his left leg.
There’s been nothing official released on Ibrahim’s injury, but it didn’t look good. Replays suggested he suffered a calf or Achilles injury. If he’s out an extended period of time, it changes everything for Minnesota’s run game.
PJ FLECK’S FOURTH DOWN GAMBLE PAYS OFF
Down 10-0 in the second quarter, P.J. Fleck and the Gophers had a decision to make, facing a 4th-and-1 at their own 29-yard line. Go for it and either capitalize, or don’t get it and risk going down 17-0 to the Buckeyes. Fleck went to his offense, and they wanted to go for it. Enter Ibrahim, who bounced off the left side for a 56-yard run. A few plays later, Tanner Morgan hit Dylan Wright for a 13-yard touchdown. The 4th-and-1 run was a gamble, but it paid off.
Gophers fans will recall two years ago, they punted on 4th-and-short in Wisconsin territory with a 7-0 lead. Instead of taking a chance to go up two scores, they ended up losing 38-17. We’ll see if the gamble is a trend this season.
GOPHERS DEFENSE GIVES UP TOO MANY BIG PLAYS
It’s no secret that Minnesota’s defense gave up too many chunk plays during the first half of 2020. It didn’t take long for it to happen against Ohio State. On the Buckeyes’ first offensive series, Miyan Williams went untouched 71 yards for a touchdown. In Thursday’s loss, the shortest touchdown the Gophers allowed went for 38 yards. The others went for 56, 70 and 61 yards.
Ohio State is probably the best offense the Gophers will face this season, but there’s plenty to clean up from Week 1.
DYLAN WRIGHT SHINES IN DEBUT
With Chris Autman-Bell injured, the Gophers lack experienced depth at wide receiver. Enter Dylan Wright, the Texas A&M transfer who made a splash in fall camp. Wright looked the part Thursday, finishing with five catches on eight targets for 57 yards and a touchdown. His first score of the season came on a fade from Tanner Morgan, an athletic catch over the defensive back after the Gophers took a 4th-and-1 gamble that paid off. Minnesota fans hope Wright’s first game is just a sign of things to come.
GOPHERS SPECIAL TEAMS ARE MUCH IMPROVED
It’s no secret that Minnesota’s special teams have been a problem in recent years. That might be changing in 2021, with Matthew Trickett at kicker and Mark Crawford punting. Trickett a Kent State transfer, was a perfect 4-for-4 on extra points and converted his only field goal attempt from 46 yards out. It was the first time in more than 1,000 days that a Gopher kicker made a field goal over 40 yards. Crawford also had three punts for 116 yards, putting two inside the Ohio State 10-yard line. Dragan Kesich also put a few kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN EXPERIENCE IS BACK
PJ Fleck said it best after the loss: "That is what the world should look like, that atmosphere was special. It’s just really good to have football back."
For the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, the Gophers had a sellout crowd at Huntington Bank Stadium. It helps opening against the No. 4-ranked team in the country, but more than 50,000 fans took in Thursday’s game. Tailgating returned, the Ski-U-March was back and so were the band and cheerleaders. It’s what college football should be every week.
It’s just one game, but there’s plenty of positives to take despite an 0-1 result.