MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Treyson Potts listened intently to Mo Ibrahim between drives, the injured Minnesota star now serving as an unofficial coach and unwavering supporter of his successor in the backfield.
Potts picked up where Ibrahim left off, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start to help the Gophers fend off Miami of Ohio 31-26 on Saturday.
“That’s my partner in crime. He was right there the whole game with me, helping me manage the game and just giving me pointers. I’ve always been on his hip. I love that dude," said Potts, the third-year player from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who put the game away with 83 yards in the fourth quarter on 12 of his 34 carries.
Ibrahim's season ended on an ill-fated plant of his foot on the turf in the opener last week against Ohio State. The 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year was an honorary captain for the pregame coin flip, rolling out to midfield on a scooter to support his surgically repaired lower left leg.
“Mo was a great teammate on the sideline. You've got to imagine how hard that is,” coach P.J. Fleck said. “He's the ultimate competitor. It was an emotional week.”
Tanner Morgan connected with Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson on scoring passes in the second quarter as the Gophers (1-1) took a 21-3 lead into halftime, before Redhawks (0-2) outgained them 128-15 in total yards in the third quarter to make them sweat it down the stretch. Brett Gabbert threw to Jack Sorenson for a 23-yard touchdown that cut Minnesota's lead to one with 12:32 to go.
“You have all the energy and all the belief at that point in time,” said Miami coach Chuck Martin, whose Redhawks were beaten in 2014 and 2015 by Fleck's teams at Western Michigan.
“Get it to the fourth quarter, and you've got a chance. That was our whole philosophy when I was in the Mid-American Conference,” Fleck said.
Then freshman Bucky Irving, who could find his way into the mix behind Potts in the backfield, made the game-changing play when he bobbled the kickoff before returning it 43 yards. Potts took five straight handoffs to gain the remaining 53 yards and give the Gophers a badly needed cushion.
“They’re going to come at you," Martin said. "They always do.”
Tyler Nubin intercepted Gabbert's third-down pass on the next drive to set up a 50-yard field goal by Matthew Trickett to make it 31-20.
Nubin also broke up Gabbert's fourth-down throw from the Minnesota 48, but the Redhawks kept the ball on a roughing-the-passer penalty on Rashad Cheney Jr. and scored on the next play when Mac Hippenhammer snagged Gabbert's 33-yard toss in tight coverage in the end zone. The 2-point conversion play failed with 3:43 to go.
The Redhawks had two timeouts, but the Gophers had Potts and their experienced, imposing offensive line. Potts had five consecutive carries to drain the clock, capped by an 11-yard rumble on third-and-4 near midfield with 1:28 left.
“If that's what it took, that's what it took,” Potts said.
The Redhawks, who won the MAC in 2019, fell to 0-5 against the Gophers and 12-49-2 all-time against Big Ten teams. Their last win was in 2003 against Northwestern.
Gabbert went 14 for 28 for 201 yards and carried six times for a team-leading 27 yards. A.J. Mayer, who struggled in Gabbert's place last week, took a handful of snaps and scored on a short run in the third quarter. Graham Nicholson also made field goals of 45 and 46 yards for the Redhawks.
Miami: Gabbert, the Freshman of the Year in the MAC in 2019, missed the season-opening loss to Cincinnati with an injury. The younger brother of former NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert displayed poise and confidence against an experienced Big Ten secondary that ought to serve the Redhawks well in conference play. Sorenson was targeted 12 times, with six catches for 97 yards.
Minnesota: Morgan was 8 for 17 for 112 yards and no turnovers for the Gophers, again making the Texas A&M transfer Wright his favorite target. Though they'll need more than eight completions a game to win in the Big Ten, the expected return soon from injury of Chris Autman-Bell will only help a passing attack that has shown some early promise with Wright and Jackson.
Miami's home opener is next Saturday against FCS foe Long Island.
Minnesota visits Colorado next Saturday. The Gophers are 0-3 against the Buffaloes, last playing them in 1992. They haven't faced a Pac-12 team since a 48-14 victory at Oregon State in 2017 that was the second game of Fleck's tenure.
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