Ibrahim, Gophers seek bounce-back with rush records in play
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By DAVE CAMPBELL
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Mohamed Ibrahim was having a hard time realizing how remarkable of a game he had just played for Minnesota, with the sting of another loss to rival Iowa only an hour old.
The sixth-year tailback trampled a fierce and proud Hawkeyes defense by rushing for a career-high 263 yards on 39 attempts, carrying the Gophers to the verge of a streak-breaking victory before an an uncharacteristic mistake in a crucial moment.
Ibrahim's fourth career lost fumble in 846 touches came at the Iowa 9 in a tied game with 5:07 to go. The Hawkeyes intercepted a pass by Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis on the following possession to set up the go-ahead field goal in the 13-10 win on Saturday.
"This is one of those games you've got to go back and learn from. See what went right, see what went wrong," Ibrahim said.
The Gophers had 312 rushing yards, the most surrendered by Iowa in more than six years since Penn State put up 359 on Nov. 5, 2016. Only two other Big Ten teams totaled more this season: Michigan (418) against Penn State on Oct. 15 and Ohio State (340) against Indiana on Nov. 12.
Ibrahim's output was also the most against Iowa since Nov. 6, 1993, when Leshon Johnson (Northern Illinois) had 306 rushing yards.
"He bounced back pretty quickly. He's becoming an elite man," coach P.J. Fleck said on Monday. "That's that whole part about that gratefulness. When you're grateful, you're grateful for the entire thing. You're not just grateful for the proud moments. You're grateful for the adversity, and this is going to teach him an awful lot."
That could be said for the entire career of the 5-foot-10, 210-pound destroyer of defenses who was lightly recruited out of Baltimore when he joined Fleck's first incoming class at Minnesota in 2017.
Ibrahim has been the epitome of a big-game player, dating back to his redshirt freshman season. He rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a loss at Ohio State and had 121 yards and a score at Wisconsin to help bring Paul Bunyan's Axe back to Minnesota for the first time in 15 years. Then he rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The return of Rodney Smith from injury for a sixth year in 2019 moved Ibrahim into a complementary role, before returning to full-time workhorse status during the 2020 pandemic-abbreviated season. He hit the 1,000-yard mark in just seven games. Then came last year, when Ibrahim had 163 yards and two scores in three quarters of the opener against Ohio State before his Achilles tendon snapped for a national TV audience to see over and over in slow-motion replay.
During that grueling rehabilitation process, the respect for Ibrahim around the program grew even bigger. He studied the offense even harder than before as a volunteer assistant of sorts to running backs coach Kenni Burns, building a knowledge-based foundation for his return for a sixth year.
"The young guys were asking me questions, and I had to give them an answer - even sitting on the sidelines just watching the game develop and stuff like that," Ibrahim said. "I was in the coaching rooms when they were going through the plays and figuring out what plays we were going to run, and I was asking questions like, `Why is that play going to work? Why is that on the call sheet?'"
The game plan in 2022 has been a whole lot more of Mo.
Ibrahim has 1,018 of his 1,524 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus, which alone would rank 22nd in the FBS. He's 58 yards behind Illinois' Chase Brown for the overall national lead, with one fewer game played after sitting out of a loss to Purdue on Oct. 1 due to an ankle injury. Ibrahim has 19 straight games with 100-plus rushing yards.
When the Gophers (7-4, 4-4) play at Wisconsin this weekend, Ibrahim will have a golden opportunity to tack on a few more feats to his already long list. With 4,527 career rushing yards, he needs 128 more to pass Darrell Thompson for the all-time program lead. With 103 more, Ibrahim would beat David Cobb (1,626 in 2014) for the single-season Gophers record.
"I'm willing to do whatever to help this team win. I let it be known that's a big reason why I came back," Ibrahim said. "I understand what we wanted to accomplish as a team, and you always ask me how many carries will it take? It don't matter. I'm going to keep fighting for my team."
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Updated November 21, 2022