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Minnesota Football: Gophers’ search for a pair and a spare begins

Welcome to life without Mohamed Ibrahim

Colorado v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Goodbye, Mohamed Ibrahim.

The AP All-American has played his final game in maroon and gold, walking out the door with the program’s single-season and career records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He was a generational running back, and the Gophers’ offense is likely to look much different without him. So who does Minnesota have waiting in the wings to replace his production?

Trey Potts

I realize more than a few Gopher fans have already moved on from Trey Potts after a lackluster season, but I would caution against doubting him. Lest you forget, many of those same fans were crestfallen when Mohamed Ibrahim was lost to injury in the 2021 season opener, certain there was nothing but despair waiting behind Ibrahim on the depth chart. Potts proved them wrong. He was averaging 146.7 rushing yards per game in three games as the starting running back before he had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 win over Purdue, bringing his season to a premature end due to an undisclosed ailment.

Many people with knowledge of his condition were skeptical that Potts would even play football again. Yet he also proved them wrong, returning to serve as Ibrahim’s primary back-up this season. He had his fair share of ups and downs in that role, showing flashes of his ability while struggling to play to his potential with much consistency. I’m willing to give him the benefit, and I expect Potts will have every opportunity to establish himself as RB1 in the spring and fall.

Bryce Williams

As he enters his final season of eligibility, I’m not quite sure what to make of Bryce Williams. Since rushing for 502 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman, he has struggled to see the field. The 249 rushing yards he tallied this season are more than his rushing yards from the previous three seasons combined. I thought he brought a unique combination of power and speed to the Gophers’ ground game, but Williams’ lack of vision and patience has held him back.

If Minnesota is looking for a pair and a spare, Williams is probably best suited as the latter.

Zach Evans

Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Zach Evans this season saw their wish granted late in the game against Northwestern. The true freshman rushed for 29 yards on the first six carries of his career, in addition to scoring his first career touchdown. Coming out of high school, I felt he had a tendency to bounce outside, even though he seemed to thrive more as a downhill runner operating between the tackles. His vision is a work in progress, but he read blocks well on film and flashed the patience and ability to press the line of scrimmage while a hole opens up.

I anticipate he’ll challenge Potts for carries next season.

Darius Taylor

I have to imagine there was a collective sigh of relief among the Minnesota coaching staff when the office fax machine delivered Darius Taylor’s signed letter of intent. To secure Taylor’s signature, the Gophers had to weather a late offer from Michigan and then the departure of running backs coach Kenni Burns. Fortunately, P.J. Fleck and co. were able to close the deal and Taylor will be on campus in the spring to begin making his case for carries.

As a high school senior, he rushed for 2,450 yards and 36 touchdowns. As a north-south runner, Taylor does not dance much at the line of scrimmage. He finds the open lane and hits it with good burst. Taylor also has experience playing in the slot. He is an effective pass catcher and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field.

Marquese Williams

With all the hand-wringing over whether the Gophers would be able to hold on to Taylor through Signing Day, Marquese Williams has largely flown under the radar. The Pennsylvania product rushed for 1,501 yards and 27 touchdowns to go along with 20 receptions for 317 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns as a high school senior. Williams had scholarships offers from more than 15 other Power 5 programs, but chose to sign with Minnesota.

At 5’8”, he will be the shortest running back on the roster and will need to continue to develop physically through the strength and conditioning program at Minnesota. But from watching his film, you can see Williams has a good feel for the running back position. He is a patient runner with good vision, capable of running between the tackles and bouncing outside the tackles. Williams is also very difficult to arm tackle and has the speed to finish runs when he breaks loose.

Poll

Who will lead Minnesota in carries in 2023?

  • 25%
    Trey Potts
    (122 votes)
  • 2%
    Bryce Williams
    (12 votes)
  • 49%
    Zach Evans
    (236 votes)
  • 20%
    Darius Taylor
    (99 votes)
  • 1%
    Marquese Williams
    (9 votes)
478 votes total Vote Now