Is a good running back the result of having a good offensive line? Or are good running backs capable of being good regardless? What came first, the chicken or the egg?
The first three-quarters of the 2021 season were looking like Mohamed Ibrahim was going to improve on his 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year season. 163 yards on the ground against Ohio State in week 1 is impressive. Then he was lost for the season.
Up next was Trey Potts. The sophomore was averaging around 150 yards per game over the next three games before suffering a serious injury at Purdue and was lost for the season.
The rest of the season was split between Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas, both freshmen, both had outstanding seasons in the second half of the season.
The Gopher ground was one of the best in the country, even as they went through four running backs.
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Last season, injuries afforded the Gophers the opportunity to flex their depth at running back. But the transfer portal has effectively erased that depth, with their top two rushers from last season walking out the door. Ky Thomas transferred to Kansas, and Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving put his name in the portal earlier this month, reportedly to find a program that can secure him an NIL deal.
That leaves Minnesota will a collection of question marks at the running back position, chief among them being Mohamed Ibrahim. The former Big Ten Running Back of the Year is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the season opener last year. When healthy, Ibrahim is one of the best running backs in the country, but there is no guarantee he’ll be 100% this fall.
In the spring Ibrahim and Potts were very limited in their participation. Leaving early enrolee Zach Evans and veteran Bryce Williams as the two getting the most work. The unit is certainly less deep than it was a year ago, but is it a downgrade?
Starter: Mohamed Ibrahim
Depth: Trey Potts, Zach Evans, Bryce Williams
There are so many question marks at this position. The good news is that there is a reasonable chance that all questions will be answered and this unit will still be one of the strongest in the Big Ten.
The first question is really about the offensive line, which is replacing 4 starters. This is concerning and something we’ll tackle in a later Upgrade/Downgrade.
Next? How close to Mohamed Ibrahim will Mohamed Ibrahim be? Has he made a full recovery and returns to being capable of leading the Big Ten in rushing and garnering several season-end awards?
Same question really applies to Potts. Is he going to be healthy and running with the same enthusiasm as last year? Can he be healthy and effective enough to spell Ibrahim without the offense missing a beat?
Is Zach Evans going to be ready to contribute as a true freshman? There is real enthusiasm around Evans’ ability. Maybe getting reps as the team’s third back will be great for his career, but for 2022 lets hope he is ready to play early and be effective.
I don’t think there really are any questions with Williams. He’s been solid, he has a ton of experience and he’s been mostly healthy. We know what to expect from Williams and personally, I’m relieved he stuck around for his final season.
Is it reasonable to think that Ibrahim and Potts are ready to go full speed and be highly effective in the new offense? I think so. Is it possible that their injuries have slowed them? It is. Is it reasonable to think that the revamped offensive line is going to make it a little harder for these backs? It is.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
Even with Ibrahim going down, I couldn’t have been more happy and impressed with the 2021 rushing game. This is a testament to the staff’s RB recruiting, the 2021 offensive line and the coaching of Kenni Burns.
If Ibrahim and Potts are back in full form and remain healthy, this can be an upgrade.
Personally, I’m going to call this a downgrade. Factoring in that the offensive line is 4/5 new and the fact that this offense is going to be more balanced, I see this as a slight downgrade. Not just statistically, but also in effectiveness.
Just so hard to assume we get positive answers to all of the questions here.
This is still going to be a strength, we are going to be a team that uses a great rushing attack to set up the passing game and the Gophers will be one of the top rushing teams in the Big Ten. It just might be closer to 170 yards per game instead of 200.
Upgrade or Downgrade for running back in 2022?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE: Mo is back baby!
NEUTRAL: Doesn’t matter who the pair or the spare are.
DOWNGRADE: Too many questions that need to be answered.