Minnesota football: Mohamed Ibrahim's return should fix things, but *that* was ugly
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Minnesota’s torrid start to the season hit a massive pot hole in Saturday’s 20-10 Homecoming loss to Purdue. The offense sputtered from the opening kick. And there’s an obvious reason why.
Mohamed Ibrahim was a late scratch and didn’t play. An ankle sprain the week prior in a win over Michigan State was the culprit. Ibrahim was a one-man wrecking crew through the first 4 weeks. He had his 13th straight 100-yard game and set the Gophers’ career rushing touchdown record (41) against Sparty. His absence created a major issue.
With their star running back sidelined, the Gophers rushed for just 47 yards on 26 carries. Bryce Williams, filling in for Ibrahim, led the way with 35 yards on 11 carries. The rushing offense was clearly not the same.
Last week we wrote about how Ibrahim provided veteran QB Tanner Morgan with a much-needed security blanket. Without his partner, Morgan failed to pick up the slack.
Granted, Purdue’s defense is a worthy unit. However, Morgan was picked off 3 times. One was clearly not his fault, as he delivered a strike to Michael Brown-Stephens only to see the ball bounce off Brown-Stephens’ chest and into the waiting arms of Purdue safety Cam Allen in the Boilers’ end zone. It was a game-changing play, as Minnesota was driving before half for the tying score.
Allen would add another pick late, as Morgan finished 18-of-33 for 257 yards. But it clearly wasn’t the same Tanner Morgan we’ve seen over the season’s first 4 weeks.
Offensive line woes
While Morgan is an easy scapegoat for the Gophers’ offensive struggles, it was far from his fault only.
Minnesota’s offensive line must play better. They couldn’t open any holes in the run game, and couldn’t provide consistent protection for Morgan. It was a double whammy that proved costly.
It’s been a unit that’s been really good. Not sure anyone saw Saturday’s performance coming. Yes, Purdue was disciplined in their run fits. But for the Gophers to go from averaging 294.5 yards per game on the ground to just 47 was eye-popping — even with Ibrahim out.
The Gophers head into their bye week searching for answers. Brian Callahan’s unit must turn things around quickly. A trip to Champaign to tangle with an Illinois team that just curb-stomped Wisconsin is on deck. Followed by another road game at Penn State.
Getting Ibrahim healed up and 100% is imperative. But making sure the same mistakes don’t recur up front takes as high a priority.
Getting healthy over bye week
Many times after a loss, a team wants to get back on the field as soon as possible. However, the bye week comes at a good time for the beat-up Gophers.
Yes, a healthy Ibrahim is needed to make this offense gel. But keep in mind Minnesota’s already playing without its top receiver in Chris Autman-Bell due to a season-ending leg injury. Ten receivers caught a ball last week – the 1st week of Autman-Bell’s absence. But in reality, a team doesn’t just replace someone of his talent and experience.
Morgan must find a go-to receiver or two. A prime candidate might be Brevyn Spann-Ford. The senior tight end caught 3 balls for 53 yards, including a 28-yarder, to put the Gophers in business late in the 2nd quarter Saturday.
Beautiful touch on this pass by Tanner Morgan connecting with TE Brevyn Spann Ford. pic.twitter.com/YLn1MH2Amp
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 1, 2022
Spann-Ford has the look of an NFL tight end — big, strong, good route runner with soft hands. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca must find even more ways to get him involved. Morgan would be wise to look his way even more than he is. He’s the kind of target who can get open vs. zone or man coverage. And if Minnesota’s offensive line hiccups continue beyond this weekend, his short-to-intermediate routes provide an opportunity for Morgan to get rid of the ball quickly.
History has shown that Minnesota hasn’t always performed well when the spotlight is on it. Saturday was another example of that. But the conference season is still young. And when taking a deeper dive into all the B1G West schedules, you’d be hard-pressed to find another team with a better chance of capturing the division than the Gophers.
Coaches, players and fans alike have to keep an even keel. Nothing was lost in Saturday’s result. All goals still remain on the table.
Joe Rossi’s defense continues to play at a high level. They allowed an opening-possession TD, but buckled down to force 3 turnovers and no points on the Boilermakers ensuing 7 possessions. They did their part.
That takes us back to the offense. A unit that was flying high was slapped with a hard reality check. Maybe they got caught up reading their press clippings? Patting themselves on the back for their No. 21 ranking?
In all likelihood the trouble stemmed from missing their alpha dog, Ibrahim. Most thought all week he was playing. The local media didn’t even know until the offense took the field he was out. It had to affect the psyche of the entire offense.
His return in 2 weeks should be a shot in the arm. For the Gophers and their B1G West title hopes, they’re counting on it.