Before the season, Gophers’ head coach P.J. Fleck stood at the podium with a paper showing what success looked like. The red line featured peaks and valleys, but ended with an upward trajectory. After a season of extreme highs and lows, the Gopher football team clearly peaked at the end of the season.
Freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim racked up huge runs — and more than 200 yards on his own — en route to a significant victory for Minnesota over Georgia Tech. The Gophers’ formula has been established by winning in the trenches. It’s an encouraging sign, considering Minnesota’s offense featured eight underclassmen during Wednesday’s Quick Lane Bowl win.
Minnesota again dominated the line of scrimmage and opened lanes for Ibrahim. The young running back looked like a bowling ball hitting pins as he bounced off tacklers for additional yardage. He rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-10 win over Georgia Tech. Minnesota’s offense never punted as the Gophers won their third straight bowl appearance.
The win was a complete team effort with execution standing out in all phases.
Minnesota was tasked with finding a way to stop Georgia Tech’s infamous triple option offense. They wasted no time trying to aggressively slow down the top rushing attack in college football. Entering the Quick Lane Bowl, the Yellow Jackets were averaging 334.9 rushing yards per game. With three weeks to prepare, the Gophers had time to tweak all of the personnel groupings and alignments.
Early in the game, the Gophers stacked the box and stopped TaQuon Marshall twice for a total of four yards. Defensive end Boye Mafe maintained the edge and closed on the quarterback to force a punt on Georgia Tech’s first drive of the game. Throughout the game, Mafe set the edge and brought size, length and physicality to the defensive line.
In the first three minutes, Minnesota used three different personnel looks, including a 5-3, 3-4 and 4-3 defensive alignment. Linebacker Thomas Barber was flowing to the ball and had three quick tackles as he flowed downhill. Georgia Tech accumulated just three rushing yards in the first quarter and finished the first half with 74 total yards. Minnesota was also using what appeared to be a 4-4 defense to slow the Georgia Tech offense. In the look, they had Carter Coughlin and Chris Williamson defending the alley. Coughlin essentially played outside linebacker and was tasked with dropping into coverage on a few occasions.
On the third drive of the game, TaQuon Marshall burst free for a 19-yard gain that was fueled by a missed tackle in space. However, a few plays later, a sack by Winston DeLattiboudere knocked Georgia Tech out of field goal range.
In the second half, Georgia Tech was starting to have success in the pitch game. Their cut blocks were helping blockers get to the second level. It helped Georgia Tech fuel a 14-play, 75-yard drive that stretched over 7:29. Off the pitch, Nathan Cottrell found the end zone from 20 yards out. Outside of a few small lapses, the Gophers’ defense didn’t allow a major big play to change the game. The entire unit was playing disciplined and reading keys very well. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi deserves credit for the adjustments he made after taking over play calling duties. He had his team prepared for an unconventional offense and held Georgia Tech to just 283 total yards because of it.
Linebacker Julian Huff stepped up with Blake Cashman skipping the bowl game for NFL preparations. The team also played without linebacker Kamal Martin, who wasn’t spotted in pregame warmups. Huff and Thomas Barber were flowing to the ball and the defensive front was doing an effective job of playing physical and setting the edge. Safety Jacob Huff also funneled down into the box to make plays against the run. The Huff brothers combined to tally 17 tackles, a sack and tackle for loss. The discipline by Minnesota’s defense helped prevent Georgia Tech from creating explosive scoring plays. This type of a performance is something that would have felt impossible from the unit earlier this season. It speaks to the scheme simplification and improved execution by the Gophers’ players.
Ibrahim runs wild in “Motown”
Offensively, the Gophers dominated in the trenches and it perfectly complemented Mo Ibrahim’s physical running style. This has been Minnesota’s recipe for success during the final three games of the season. The Gophers’ ability to control the line of scrimmage helped them set the tone.
They also managed to get in a groove via the intermediate passing game. The Gophers used a run-pass option look to find Rashod Bateman over the middle for a 21-yard gain. Minnesota blended in the ground game as running back Mohamed Ibrahim picked up tough yardage. He bounced through an arm tackle in the second level and showed off his balance to pick up 19 yards. The team’s drive quickly stalled after two short runs and an incompletion caused a 10-play, 62-yard drive to halt. Emmit Carpenter drilled a 31-yard field goal and the sequence spanned more than five minutes. Minnesota controlled the time of possession throughout the game and prevented Georgia Tech from establishing a rhythm.
Mohamed Ibrahim ran the ball really well and frequently picked up yards after contact. On the team’s second drive, his 11-yard run was fueled by left tackle Blaise Andries’ reach block. Despite executing the difficult block at an awkward angle, he sealed the edge perfectly. After playing right guard this season, Andries replaced Donnell Greene, who skipped the bowl game to prepare for the NFL. Ibrahim ran the ball into favorable situations with Georgia Tech playing so much coverage. They often had two deep safeties manning the back half of the field. Ibrahim finished the day with 224 yards on 31 carries and surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season. He became just the third Minnesota freshman running back to accomplish this feat.
The same drive ended with an 18-yard strike from quarterback Tanner Morgan to senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson. Johnson put a beautiful double move on the cornerback to get separation off his release. Morgan beautifully placed the throw into a tight window as Johnson stretched for the pass. In the fourth quarter, Johnson beautifully adjusted and showed off body control to bring in a 30-yard touchdown grab. With the reception, Johnson set the Gophers’ single-season touchdown record. He passed both Omar Douglas and Ron Johnson on Minnesota’s all-time list. After grabbing four catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns in Wednesday’s win, Johnson’s draft stock might continue to rise. The junior may consider to forgo his senior year, especially considering the 2019 NFL Draft class is weak at wide receiver.
The Gophers continued to wear down Georgia Tech in the second half and took several occasional shots up the field, too. In the third quarter, Tanner Morgan found wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell for a 41-yard strike. He was ruled short of the goal line, but Ibrahim quickly found the end zone for a short touchdown.