Yes, Mohamed Ibrahim can still have the ball. So does Trey Potts.
Yes, Kirk Ciarrocca and Tanner Morgan can still hit the right notes.
Yes, the Gophers can still play stingy defense.
All of that came with a 38-0 win over New Mexico State in the Gophers’ season opener Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium.
The pregame intrigue revolved around a one-sided feud between current Aggies coach and former Gophers coach Jerry Kill and Minnesota coach PJ Fleck, who succeeded Kill’s longtime assistant and friend Tracy Claeys.
Fleck approached Kill for a pregame handshake, and he put his arm around his former Northern Illinois owner and chatted with him for a few minutes. After the game they shook hands and talked again.
Then, Flake’s team methodically crushed last year’s 2-10 Aggies, who gave up 40.4 points per game.
“We’re talking about this tough piece, it’s not manly tough,” Fleck said. Can you promise? Can you control your emotions? Can we challenge each other? Can you have confidence? Can you concentrate? I thought I saw a tough football team there.
Ibrahim ended his 2021 season in the opener with Ohio State, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, rushing 21 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He rushes for more than 100 yards in his 10th straight game and is tied for second in program history with 35 career TDs with Marion Barber III.
“It’s emotional,” Fleck said when asked about his reaction to Ibrahim’s performance. “I’m not a parent to these players, but you feel like you are. … What he’s been through, what he’s overcome is what ‘rowing’ is all about. That’s what he believes in.
Potts, recovering from an injury that ended the 2021 season at Purdue in October, had 17 rushing attempts for 89 yards and a touchdown.
“Thanks to the doctors at Purdue and the medical team there; thanks to the doctors in Indiana; thanks to the doctors and the medical team at the University of Minnesota, he’s still alive,” Fleck said. He ran for a lot of yards and touchdowns tonight. We never know if he will play again.
Ciarrocca’s command and Morgan’s offense kept the offense in balance, and the sixth-year QB completed 13 of 19 passes for 174 yards. He also has a size 1 QB sneaker for TD. Through three quarters, the Gophers beat the Aggies 485-91 and held the ball for 44 minutes and 30 seconds before the Aggies 15:30.
“As you watched him go through his progress, you could feel Kirk talking to him,” Fleck said.
The Gophers defense ranked third in the nation in fewest yards allowed last year, and it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Aggies broke through Minnesota territory. For the first time since September 16, 2006, they eliminated Temple 62-0 at home.
“Every day we come to work, we have to have a mentality, we need to be a tough defender,” linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. “When you look at the top ten teams in the West, like Iowa Teams like State and Wisconsin have been built to stop running with fitness first. As a defense, we have to shape that mentality and always be tough. ”
Ciarrocca, in the first of his second game with the Gophers, threw. Morgan hit Chris Autman-Bell for 15 yards, and Morgan found Mike Brown-Stephens on a 26-yard angle on the next play. Ibrahim followed, leading the Aggies 17 with 16 yards. Four games later, Ibrahim rushed from the 4 for his 34th career touchdown and led 7-0 with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
New Mexico State went strong on the next possession, but after a fair catch-disturb penalty on the Aggies, the Gophers quickly forced a punt and took over at 36.
On their second offense, the Gophers had 13 games for 64 yards. Ibrahim started with 15 and 9 yards. Potts ran for 11 consecutive yards, passing the ball to 15 yards. Ibrahim then advanced for 14 yards on four occasions, catching the ball from a 1-pointer in the first game of the second quarter for his 35th career touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
After Minnesota’s defense forced another 3-pointer out, the offense ripped through the Aggies’ defense, then stalled inside the 10 and led 17-0 on Matthew Trickett’s 26-yard field goal. Morgana spotted Altman Bell behind the end zone and the perimeter player attempted to get a toe in bounds, but a replay review confirmed the officials’ incomplete call.
On Morgan’s 1-yard QB sneak, the Gophers extended the lead to 24-0 with 19 seconds left in the first half.
The Gophers got the ball to start the second half, advancing for 77 yards in 13 games for a 31-0 lead with Morgan in the lead.
The QB immediately hit Autman-Bell on a resistance course for a 19-yard gain. Four games later, Morgan found an open Brown Stephens for 18 yards on the Aggies 26. But the requirements for left tackle Ariantay Esseri and right tackle Quinn Carroll are No. 2 at No. 44 and No. 26. Morgan’s screen for Potts got back 14 yards, Morgan climbed out of the danger, cut back and went down for a 14-to-16 first run. Three games later, Morgan scored on another 1-yard sneak. The ride lasted 8:29.
“I stumbled a bit,” Morgan said of his big run. “I knew I had to fall. I had a couple of really good blocks from the outside.”
Potts’ 1-yard TD run with 7 seconds left in the third made it 38-0.
“I like the way our players play,” Fleck said.