Minnesota football: Ibrahim's greatness shouldn't get lost in 2020 madness
MINNEAPOLIS — The performance of a college football running back doesn’t even register on the list of important things COVID-19 has taken from us.
But what Minnesota redshirt junior Mohamed Ibrahim has done in 2020 is nothing short of remarkable.
“He’s earned everything he’s gotten,” coach P.J. Fleck said. “A lot of times in our world, we just want things handed to us.
“Mo isn’t that way.”
By far the brightest spot on a Golden Gophers team that’s 2-3 with 2 games lost to the coronavirus, Ibrahim was FBS’ top yards-per-game rusher until Oregon State and Jermar Jefferson began playing and Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson went off for 409 yards last Saturday against Kent State.
Ibrahim’s 163.4 yards per game ranks 3rd nationally (he was 7th in that category in 2018).
The last Minnesota running back to finish the season that high? A guy named Laurence Maroney in 2005.
Maroney was also the Gophers’ most recent 1st-team all-Big Ten running back. Ibrahim should be in the driver’s seat for that distinction — Ohio State’s Master Teague III might have a case, but he hasn’t put up quite the astronomical numbers Ibrahim has — and could garner conference Offensive Player of the Year accolades.
It’s quite a reversal from last season, when Ibrahim was limited due to injury and took a back seat to Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks.
But there was plenty of evidence during Ibrahim’s freshman year, when he made an immediate name for himself with 116 yards per game. He broke or tied school records for rushing touchdowns in a game, rushing TDs in a half and rushing yards in a game by a freshman.
“You could see that he was really special,” Fleck said. During Ibrahim’s redshirt year in 2017, Fleck said “he literally got beat up every single day, but he never missed a practice playing scout team running back. … That’s incredibly difficult.”
Ibrahim ranks 9th on the Gophers’ career charts with 2,581 yards despite playing in only 26 games.
He has been particularly transcendent this year, executing Minnesota’s inside zone scheme with 2 missing starters on the offensive line, little help from the Gophers’ passing game at times and zero assistance from the B1G’s worst defense.
Opponents know “Mo” is getting the ball. They know he’s likely headed for a spot somewhere behind the post-snap direction of Minnesota’s guards and tackles, and is either going to follow them toward the edge or cut back the other way.
And yet none of that seems to matter.
“He’s a great example to everyone on our team that might be on the scout team right now — look at where he’s at right now,” Fleck said. “There’s a process of growth, and you’ve got to earn everything that you get.”
To that end, Ibrahim has also emerged as a leader during what has been a trying season for a team currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. After learning the ropes from the likes of Smith and Brooks during his 1st 2 seasons, Ibrahim has taken it upon himself to make sure youngsters Treyson Potts, Cam Wiley and others are prepared to carry the mantle after No. 24 moves on from the Twin Cities.
“You need everybody in that room,” said Ibrahim, a Baltimore native. “My leadership to them is understanding any play, anybody can get in, so I gotta teach those young guys, ‘Don’t take the day off.'”
When will the next step come? Good question.
Ibrahim currently projects as a middle-round NFL-type back, but he could see that change with successful testing in front of scouts this spring. Or he could return for at least 1 more year and project as one of the top backs in the country.
In many ways, though, Ibrahim is already worthy of that status.
“I mean, Mo’s a superstar,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “Every single day, you know what you’re gonna get with No. 24.”