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Behind Enemy Lines: Minnesota Gophers Q&A with The Daily Gopher

Learn a bit about P.J. Fleck and the Gophers.

Miami-Ohio v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Battle of the Plains Mascots begins! The Colorado Buffaloes and the Minnesota Gophers are facing off on Saturday at 11 A.M., and both teams are in similar spots. Tough losses (with injuries) against top-tier teams, and nothing-burger performances against lower level opponents. Both teams don’t quite know who they are yet. The Daily Gopher, our sister site, was more than generous with their insights. To be clear, these questions and answers were manufactured before Mo Ibrahim’s season-ending injury. I don’t want to editorialize too much, so I will leave the questions and answers as is.

How did Minnesota manage to bring Mohamed Ibrahim and Tanner Morgan back? What are the expectations of those two?

Different situations for both of them. Morgan was outstanding in 2019 and took a little step back in 2020, so his NFL profile wasn’t good enough to hear his name called on draft day. Ibrahim came out of nowhere to be the Big Ten RB of the Year in 2020’s shortened season, but again, I’m not sure his NFL stock was high enough to come out. And technically, both could come back next season if they wanted to. I have very high expectations for both of those kids and the offense. Morgan is the team’s leader, he is a good decision maker and is an accurate thrower. I fully expect he’ll be back to around 60% completion and over 200 yards per game passing. Ibrahim is really decisive as a runner, maybe the best decision maker as a RB as I can recall. Good speed, good lower body strength. I do not expect his numbers will be quite as gaudy as they were last season, but he is really quite good. Both of them benefit from the entire offensive line returning with 2 additions who sat out 2020. The OL is as good as Minnesota has seen in 15+ years, which is a big reason that expectations are high for Morgan and Ibrahim.

P.J. Fleck lit the world on fire with an 11-2 season in 2019. In 2020, they backslid to 3-4. It’s hard to know what to think about this team. So - what should I think about this team?

The backslide wasn’t unexpected after that 2019 team graduated 7 starters on defense (with 4 or 5 of them drafted). So there was a lot of leadership and production to replace on that side of the ball. The good news is that 2020 was a weird year and ultimately, for Gopher football, was perfect for getting bunch of kids reps on defense. There is talent on that side of the ball, but the inexperience was brutal last year. So my expectations are that this offense is going to be one of the best in the Big Ten. And the defense is going to be much improved. Improved meaning it will sit in the middle of the Big Ten, giving up in the 25-28 points per game range. The record will be similar to what it was in 2019 and they’ll be playing Wisconsin at home in the last week of the season with the Big Ten West on the line.

The last time Minnesota played Colorado, 1991, the Buffs won 58-0 in Boulder against a John Gutekunst Gopher team. Why is history likely to repeat itself?

Well, shortly after that debacle to the Buffs, the Twins won the 1991 World Series and changed the fortunes of Minnesota sports teams forever. Since then the Vikings have gone on to... Well the Timberwolves soon had Garnett and won all kinds of...The Twins have been made playoff ru...Gopher football has dominated the Big T...nevermind. I just hope we can score in Boulder this year.

Who are the players, other than Ibrahim and Morgan, that Buff fans should watch out for?

Chris Autman-Bell is the next in line at receiver after back to back years of a Gopher receiver being drafted early. He’s made some really fantastic catches and is ready to take over the lead receiver role. Daniel Faalele is the team’s RT and this guy is about the most fun OL to watch as I can recall. He is massive (6’9”, 380) and moves like a guy half his size. On defense Boye Mafe is an incredibly athletic DE who will rack up sacks, the question with him is whether or not he can also diagnose and stop the run.

What are you keying in on as you scout this Colorado team?

The thing that’ll be most interesting to watch is the Colorado linebackers against Ibrahim and the short-slants by the Gopher receivers. This is the bread and butter of the Gopher offense. Suck LBs in with the running game that sets up quick slants on the RPO where they have good receivers who run very precise routes. If you’re telling me (which you did) that the LBs are probably the strength of this team, that will be really interesting to watch.

What are your predictions for the game?

I am expecting a Gopher win. These two programs are just at different points right now. Year 2 for Dorrell, with a brand new quarterback and a team hoping to get to 6 wins and a bowl game. Year 5 for Fleck with a very experienced team that is hoping to win the Big Ten West. The gap between the team teams isn’t a chasm, but in week 3 of this season, I’m expecting a Gopher road win. For Minnesota the schedule kind of is perfect for this game. They host Ohio State in week one, where they’ll lose but get everything exposed that needs to be fixed. Week 2 they face Miami (OH) and get a chance to work out the things that needed to be fixed. Week 3 is when they start to establish their identity and perform at a higher level.

Minnesota’s leading receiver (returning to the team) is Chris Autman-Bell. The leading tackler is Mariano Sori-Marin. Why do Minnesota players love hyphens?

And that’s just scratching the surface. You left out Micah Dew-Treadway (starting DT, Notre Dame transfer) and Michael Brown-Stephens (nephew of John Legend) nad Brevyn Spann-Ford (a receiving TE) along with 3 other hyphenaters who likely won’t see the field. I cannot answer your question. But as a fellow blogger, can I get you to sign the petition that college football players are only allowed to receive a scholarship if they have names that are easy and quick to type? We had a DE graduate after the 2019 season named Winston Delattiboudere (I copied/pasted that). Good player, nice kid, but will always be referred to as “46” for me. Nobody really understands just how hard it is to be a blogger somedays, amiright?