NCAA Football

Gophers ‘encore four’ super seniors continue to lead – InForum

Gophers ‘encore four’ super seniors continue to lead – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS – The quartet of sixth-year seniors returning to the Gophers football team for the 2022 season were dubbed the “Encore Four.” Quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Mohamed Ibrahim, wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell and center John Michael Schmitz returned hoping to deliver the first Big Ten West Division title to Dinkytown.

The starting lineup is down to three after Autman-Bell suffered a season-ending leg injury on Sept. 17, and the goal of a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game is a long shot. distant Still, Morgan, Ibrahim and Schmitz hold the keys to what this team can accomplish as the calendar turns to November for the final four games of the regular season.

Coach PJ Fleck made that clear when he relied heavily on all three in the Gophers’ 31-0 win over Rutgers on Saturday. After a three-game losing streak that wiped out the optimism built up during a 4-0 September, Morgan, Ibrahim and Schmitz all put in strong performances.

Morgan, hurt in the late stages of the Gophers’ loss at Illinois on Oct. 15, missed last weekend’s loss at Penn State. In his place was redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis, the quarterback who Fleck says is the team’s future and who did enough at Penn State to make them believe the future should be now.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Minnesota
Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) passes in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a game on Oct. 29, 2022 at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Matt Blewett/USA TODAY Sports

Fleck, however, remained loyal to the quarterback who is 32-14 as a starter.

“Tanner has earned the right, in my opinion, to be on this field and lead our team,” Fleck said. “And I said to Athan, ‘I’ll do the same for you.’ When you have that much built up, it’s hard to sit there and say, ‘OK, well, you go out there and see what happens.'”

Morgan was efficient against Rutgers, completing seven of nine passes and scoring a 15-yard third-down scramble on the Gophers’ first two possessions that led to a 14-0 lead.

Making things happen up front was an offensive line led by Schmitz, the 6-4, 320-pound tackle who is ranked as the top center in the country by Pro Football Focus College.

During the three-game skid, the Gophers’ offensive line was not at its best, scoring just 10, 14 and 17 points in losses to Purdue, Illinois and Penn State. That changed Saturday when Schmitz led a unit that racked up 375 yards of offense, including 253 on the ground. The O-line was especially strong on a 19-play, 99-yard TD drive on the team’s first possession and a 13-play, 86-yard drive that made it 14-0 in the second quarter.

The first trip took 10 minutes and 27 seconds. The second consumed 7:03. By the end of the afternoon, the Gophers held the ball for more than two-thirds of the game, 41:02 to Rutgers’ 18:58.

The offensive line looked even better thanks to Ibrahim, who hit the Scarlet Knights with 36 carries for 159 yards and three touchdowns. He moved into sole possession of Minnesota’s career TD record with 46, three more than Darrell Thompson. He also ranked ninth on the Big Ten career TD list.

Ibrahim has rushed 170 times for 955 yards and 13 TDs this season and has 3,958 career yards. That ranks third in program history, behind only Thompson (4,654) and Rodney Smith (4,122). Ibrahim needs 697 yards to break Thompson’s record, and to do so, he would need to average 139.4 yards over the final four games of the regular season and a bowl game to set the record.

Regardless of Ibrahim’s record-breaking status, his value is not lost on his quarterback.

“To be a part of this program and culture and come out here on Saturdays is an honor,” Morgan said, “especially when you get to be in the backfield next to the GOAT.”

©2022 StarTribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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