When Miami (Ohio) cut an already closer-than-expected deficit to 1 point early in the fourth quarter Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, Trey Potts suddenly morphed from fledgling calf to bell cow.

Five straight carries for 53 yards, the final 21 of which came on a 21-yard touchdown scamper to make sure Minnesota held off a feisty RedHawks team.

This wasn’t expected. Then again, neither was reigning Big Ten running back of the year Mohamed Ibrahim suffering a season-ending lower-leg injury that thrust Potts into the starting role.

Running backs coach Kenni Burns and head man PJ Fleck pulled the redshirt sophomore aside right before Bucky Irving’s 41-yard kickoff return set up the Golden Gophers with solid field position. “They said, ‘this drive is pivotal,’ and they were going to give me a lot of responsibility on that drive,” Potts said.

Make that the entire game.

Potts’ 34 carries, 178 yards and 2 touchdowns were all career highs. They were also needed as Minnesota sputtered at times through the air and saw some of the same defensive issues that were the scourge of last season.

But after losing their best player for the year, the Gophers were in need of some adrenaline. It came in the form of a 5-11, 210-pound former 3-star recruit from Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“Gutsy,” Fleck said. “You don’t know how somebody’s gonna react when it’s that type of situation, and that type of game. You know what Mo was gonna do, but Mo’s done that for years, but now Trey has shown what he can do.”

Yes, it’s one game. Against a middle-of-the-road MAC opponent. But the fact that Potts is capable of successfully shouldering an Ibrahim-like workload keeps any hopes Minnesota has for West Division contention theoretically intact.

“The time came, and [the coaches] believed in me,” Potts said. “I just took my opportunity and made a game out of it.”

Don’t get it twisted: Minnesota will never be better off without Ibrahim in the lineup. But with the Gophers’ star providing Potts pointers on the sideline after undergoing surgery earlier this week, the latter came of age in a hurry.

Before Saturday, Potts’ most extensive collegiate action — 10 carries — came last Thursday while spelling Ibrahim in a loss to Ohio State. They’ve been excited about Potts around here since he got to campus in 2019, but a redshirt season followed by a COVID year dominated by Ibrahim limited his chances to shine.

That chance is here. But it comes with two burning questions.

Is it sustainable? Perhaps the central-most facet of Ibrahim’s greatness was his durability. Can Potts really carry 25-30 times a game and hold up?

Relatedly, and thus perhaps more importantly, who else in the fold can help? Irving has done some good things in practice and as a returner. Bryce Williams shows flashes. Cam Wiley, too.

Minnesota has done it both with a No. 1 stud and by committee at running back under Fleck. But he’d prefer a diversified portfolio in this scenario.

“Now what you have to do is know the next [running backs] have to come up, who out of the next two or three can be able to provide that one-two punch,” Fleck said. “We’ll find out as we continue to evaluate film, and continue to get everybody carries.”

For one day, though, it was Potts’ show. And given the way it went, it likely won’t be the last.

“I think it was really gritty, obviously a large part due to this guy right here, the way that he played,” said quarterback Tanner Morgan, sitting next to Potts during the postgame press conference. “Our culture’s all about how; how you do anything is how you do everything. I was proud of the grit that we showed.”