Minnesota wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell will miss the rest of the season after suffering a right knee injury in the Golden Gophers’ 49-7 win over Colorado on Saturday, head coach P.J. Fleck announced during his weekly media availability Monday morning.
Fleck declined to get into specifics regarding the injury, other than that it will require surgery.
Through the first three games of the season, Autman-Bell leads the team in receptions (11) and receiving yards (214). A sixth-year senior, he opted to return this season alongside seniors Tanner Morgan, Mohamed Ibrahim, and John Michael Schmitz in pursuit of the program’s first Big Ten title since 1967. After serving as the No. 3 receiver behind Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman in 2019, Autman-Bell seemed poised for a breakout season, but the Gophers’ passing game faltered in two seasons under former offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr.
In his postgame press conference Saturday, Fleck opened with a statement regarding Autman-Bell’s status, emphasizing his critical role as a leader within the program.
“He’s a big member of this football team. I’d be lying to you if I said he wasn’t,” Fleck said. “He’s one of the most integral parts of what we do and how we do it on and off the field, and one of the best people. But no matter what, we’re trained to Row the Boat. He’s trained to Row the Boat. I’ve known him for eight years and no matter what, he’ll put his oar back in the water.”
Replacing Autman-Bell will likely require a group effort.
So far this season, the Gophers have completed passes to six different wide receivers, three different tight ends, and three different running backs. Expect an expanded role for tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, who has already caught eight receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown this season. Mike Brown-Stephens, Dylan Wright, Daniel Jackson, and Clay Geary will be the core group of wide receivers Minnesota relies on in the passing game.
What the Gophers will miss most is Autman-Bell’s ability to stretch the field in the vertical passing game. He currently leads the team with an average of 19.5 yards per reception.