It’s hard to ignore a single player having six touchdowns in just two games.
That’s why Mohamed Ibrahim is becoming a household name among Gophers football fans. For years, he existed in the shadow of two other prolific backs in Minnesota’s program history, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Now, he has come to the forefront as the feature back and hasn’t disappointed.
Despite his extraordinary play, the Gophers are 0-2 and the pandemic-shortened season is already a quarter of the way done.
Special teams sunk the Gophers against Michigan. The defense let the team down late against Maryland to give up 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and send the game to overtime. Once the defense was done, special teams made a return to the spotlight. Brock Walker missed a game-tying extra point in overtime to seal Minnesota’s defeat.
The Gophers are just one year removed from arguably the most effective offense in the program’s long history. While Rodney Smith was the primary back last season, both he and Ibrahim averaged just over five yards per carry. Now, Ibrahim has more than half the yards and attempts he did total last season through two games. His six touchdowns are just one behind last season and three behind his career high in 2018. That season, he showed why he deserved a more consistent look as a primary back on a good offense. He had more than 1,000 yards filling in for an injured Smith and Shannon Brooks. That season, Ibrahim also averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Ibrahim is now a junior and is undoubtedly rushing the best he has in his college career. Despite a shakeup in his blockers on the offensive line, he has made the most of each run this season with 5.2 yards per carry. Yet, aside from personal stats, it has been all for nothing. He has one more season to rush like this and then the program will have to replace his production.
Enter quarterback Tanner Morgan and wide receiver Rashod Bateman. While both are listed as juniors, this is certainly Bateman’s final season with the Gophers. Bateman’s offensive explosion last season has made him a focus of opposing defenses this year. That attention can be seen in the increased targets and receptions for Chris Autman-Bell, who had a 112 yard, one touchdown game against Maryland. Bateman, though, is arguably the most electric wide receiver in program history. Although his statistics this season aren’t as shocking as they were last season, he is an integral member of the offense that has shown its ability to put up big numbers. Two games into a season he almost didn’t come back for, the team looks far from contending for a chance at the Big Ten West title.
And let’s not forget Morgan, who emerged surprisingly out of a quarterback competition with Zack Annexstad. Morgan has embodied the P.J. Fleck culture and had one of the best single-seasons for a Gophers’ quarterback in program history. After this year, he has one season remaining, and then it is back to the drawing board under center. While Fleck has certainly done a better job at recruiting the position than his predecessors, there is always a potential for underachievers or playing a quarterback that isn’t a good fit. See Demry Croft or Conor Rhoda from Fleck’s first season.
Right now, circumstances out of the offense’s control are wasting their offense’s time to compete for something more than a bowl game. As the 2020 season progresses, 2019 looks more like the fortunate alignment of a veteran defense combined with an untapped offense finding its way to an 11-2 record.
If the defense struggled mightily against an offense like Maryland’s, it could be a long season of development for that group. It also puts more pressure on an effective offense to perform at an even higher level for the last six games to get victories. But until the defense can hold any opponent under 40 points, it’s hard to see Minnesota getting too many wins, even with special talent on offense.