Analysis and Podcast: How will the Gophers move forward without Mohamed Ibrahim?

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck announced Monday that running back Mohamed Ibrahim suffered a season-ending lower-leg injury during Thursday’s 45-31 loss to No. 4 Ohio State. Ibrahim will have surgery Tuesday and faces a recovery timetable of four to six months.

“There is no replacing Mohamed Ibrahim. This isn’t like you can just say, ‘OK, we’ll just 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,” head coach P.J. Fleck said during Monday’s press conference. “One of the biggest reasons is he’s an unbelievable person, the hardest worker on this team, the heartbeat of the team. That does not mean that the next running back in there won’t perform at a high level. We have four to five backs that can run our offense.”

Minnesota will now rotate snaps between Trey Potts, Cam Wiley, Bryce Williams, Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving. Potts, a versatile running back, is expected to receive most of the starting reps. The redshirt sophomore has posted 36 carries, 206 yards and two touchdowns in eight career games. Potts thrives in space, creates mismatches as a receiver, and brings an elusive rushing style to the table. 

Outside of him, the Gophers have several different skill sets to choose from. 

Wiley is athletic, but must focus on improving his pad level and decisiveness. On the other hand, Williams has rushed for 541 yards and six touchdowns in 19 total games. He is a patient and agile runner who frequently bounces runs to the perimeter. 

However, among all of the running backs, redshirt freshman Ky Thomas might end up being the sleeper. He is a physical runner who takes on defenders in the hole. Thomas frequently makes the first defender miss, picks up yards after contact and runs with fantastic balance. In fact, out of all the backup running backs on Minnesota’s roster, his overall rushing style might be the closest match to Ibrahim’s. 

“Ky Thomas is a guy that has that type of physicality too. And again, we have a lot of numbers, it’s just you haven’t seen a lot of them because Mohamed has been so good,” Fleck said. “But again, I don’t feel like it’s just, ‘OK, just put the next guy in, we’ll be fine.’ We’re going to be fine, but we’ve got to keep developing those backs because [it is tough] when you lose the best back in the country, and that’s complete respect to Mohamed, he is is phenomenal. I haven’t been around anyone like him. Close, not like him though.”

True freshman Mar’Keise Irving is another player who could contribute on a rotational basis. The four-star running back from Illinois was one of my favorite overall recruits within the 2021 recruiting class. Irving’s physical/explosive rushing style, vision, patience and elusiveness helped him become one of the state’s top running backs. Subscribers can read a full breakdown of his skill set by clicking here. Despite the fact “Bucky” Irving does not have much experience, Fleck indicated he may earn rotational snaps throughout September.

“Every back is going to be able to get a look, but I’m not interested right now at this point in four games, not four games. Every one of those backs can play football. And whoever the best ones that complement each other really well from this point forward, they’re going to play,” Fleck said. “Bucky is a really talented back, he’s just young. So, I mean, hopefully we’re able to get him in the mix as well.”

I also talked about the impact of Ibrahim’s injury during my latest appearance with Ross Brendel on Minnesota Sports Chat. How could Mo’s absence impact the Gophers’ offensive scheme? We discussed that topic and analyzed all of the key plays from Thursday’s game. Listen below! 

Also, if you’re looking for a film breakdown of the Gophers’ defense, become a subscriber and check it out! Gophers Guru All-Access subscription is just $5 a month! I will be providing in-depth analysis, data pieces, film breakdowns and features throughout the season. 

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