Every Minnesota football fan who watched the Gophers play Ohio State on the Gophers’ opening day collectively cringed when star running back and team captain Mohamed Ibrahim went down with an injury in the third quarter, unable to continue in the game and now the season (and quite possibly his college career).
Head coach PJ Fleck confirmed the following Monday that Ibrahim would indeed miss the entire 2021 collegiate season after having lower-leg surgery, a worst-case scenario for both the Heisman candidate and the football program as a whole. But it’s not all doom and gloom for the team, as Fleck insinuated in his press conference to announce the injury.
“It’s football. You can’t control the injuries when you get onto the field and you’re playing in games,” said Fleck. “He’s got a smile on his face: ‘I’m going to be just fine.’”
Thankfully Ibrahim is on the road to full recovery according to Fleck, with a timetable of 4-6 months recovery on the horizon for the senior. He could be back for a sixth season next year if he decides to take a medical redshirt, although with his NFL stock at an all-time high Ibrahim quite possibly could be gone after this year. Either way, Fleck has started to look into his bag of running backs to fill the snaps that Ibrahim used to take, so we’re going to do the same and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each of the Gophers’ current running backs.
At least for now, Potts seems to be the workhorse running back that will take a majority of the carries for the Gophers, much like Ibrahim used to. He had 34 carries against Miami (OH) a week after the Ohio State game, which was out of 43 total carries from all backs. With these he averaged just over five yards per carry, totaling 178 yards and also cashed in two touchdowns. He’s a similar size to Ibrahim (5’11 & 210 lbs.) and runs in a similar east-west style so I think that Potts fits what Fleck wants to see from his RB1. After watching a full game of Potts as the starter, he definitely gives flashes of Ibrahim and I assume he will continue to get this amount of touches for the coming games as long as he keeps shining.
If Potts is the east-west running back, sophomore Cam Wiley is our north-south running back. He offers more size than Potts and carries his weight well by trucking tacklers, but we still have yet to see much from him. So far in two games this season, Wiley only has six carries for four yards all gained against Ohio State. In fact, he only had 40 carries going into this season in a whole two years for 211 yards and one touchdown so he simply hasn’t seen much time but that is bound to change this season as he is now the assumed RB2 behind Potts. He averaged a great 6.2 yards per carry (YPC) last season in minimal time. With the Gopher offensive line positioned as one of the best in the nation, Wiley has all the tools around him, he just has to take advantage of this opportunity.
Bryce Williams has been a fairly forgotten man in the running back conversation since his freshman year when he rushed for over 500 yards. Now in year four, he’s only gotten 25 carries in the last three seasons combined. That’s 92 fewer carries than he got in his freshman year alone. He only has three carries so far this year but he did score a touchdown against Ohio State on his lone touch of the game. Some see Williams as somewhat of a power back like Wiley, and he has had most of his recent touches on the goal-line. He could potentially see more touches with the absence of Ibrahim although he only got two attempts against Miami (OH), so it could be awhile before we see much from Williams.
The four-star freshman running back, Bucky Irving, has not had a carry yet in a Gophers uniform but he has already made his presence known on special teams. In the game against Miami (OH), he had two kick returns for a total of 64 yards including a 41-yard return. On that return, Irving showed speed that I have not seen from many of the other running backs on the roster and it got me extremely excited about his future when he starts getting reps on offense. His type of game fits the mold of a PJ Fleck RB1 and his shiftiness was a real danger on his kick returns, so once he gets behind the elite offensive line he will surely flourish. Watch out for Bucky this year because even if he is inexperienced, he arguably has the talent to be our next best thing.