What does the Gophers football season look like without Mo Ibrahim?

Mo Ibrahim ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns before leaving last Thursday's 45-31 loss to Ohio State with a lower left leg injury. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

University of Minnesota football coach PJ Fleck addressed reporters on Monday ahead of the Gophers’ Week 2 game against Miami (Ohio), and started with the news most were expecting but still didn’t want to come to terms with.

Running back Mo Ibrahim is out for the season. Ibrahim is set to have surgery Tuesday morning on a lower left leg injury, which video shows appears to be a torn Achilles. Fleck didn’t specifically say Monday what the injury is, opting to leave that up to Ibrahim to divulge, but did say the 2021 season is over for his star running back.

Ibrahim’s 30th carry near the end of the third quarter would be his last. In front of more than 30 NFL scouts, the reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year went for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Ibrahim set up Minnesota’s first touchdown of the night after going for 56 yards on a gutsy 4th-and-1 play from their own 29 in the second quarter, down 10-0.

Fleck on Monday couldn’t help but reflect on losing his top running back for the season.

"You feel really, really bad for the young man. There is no replacing Mohamed Ibrahim. This isn’t like you can just say we’ll put the next guy in, you can’t do that. He’s such a special player, and I think the best back in the country for a lot of reasons," Fleck said.

Ibrahim will be in rehabilitation mode for several months after having surgery. The only question remaining for him will be does he declare for the NFL Draft, or come back for one more season with the Gophers? NFL teams likely want to see one more season out of him for his draft stock, but Minnesota’s entire offensive line this year is all seniors, meaning Ibrahim would have a new line in front of him in 2022.

That decision likely won’t be made any time soon.

So what does the 2021 offense look like without Ibrahim? The Gophers will certainly miss him, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Fleck has some depth at running back, and see at least a few of them Saturday against Miami (Ohio) at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Behind Ibrahim last Thursday, Trey Potts had 10 carries for 37 yards and was featured in some wildcat looks. Cam Wiley had three carries for four yards, but in 2020 had 29 carries for 190 yards and one touchdown. The Gophers also have freshman running backs in Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving that Fleck has raved about, but we haven’t seen them in game action yet.

Also don’t forget about Bryce Williams, who had two touchdowns the last time Minnesota beat Wisconsin, and even quarterback Tanner Morgan, who scrambled a few times for 18 yards.

Potts is probably the leader of that group heading into Saturday’s game.

"They’ve got to compete. We have a lot of numbers, you just haven’t seen a lot of them because Mohamed has been so good," Fleck said.

Ibrahim’s injury also forced Fleck to open up the playbook, which was a pleasant surprise with top receiver Chris Autman-Bell unable to play. Last Thursday, Daniel Jackson had three catches for 58 yards, and in his Gophers’ debut, Dylan Wright had five catches for 57 yards and showed off his athleticism in his first touchdown. Morgan also found Brevyn Spann-Ford three times for 44 yards.

When Autman-Bell comes back, which should be sooner rather than later, it gives Morgan another weapon to work with. Autman-Bell dressed and went through warm-ups against Ohio State. He was a game-time decision, and couldn’t play.

The Gophers will definitely miss Ibrahim, but they also put up 31 points against one of the top teams in college football. It’s up to the entire offense to step and fill that void the rest of the season.