It’s been an off-season full of changes, many of them positive, for the Golden Gophers. Here’s a breakdown of the Minnesota offense (defense to come):
After heralded freshman Zack Annexstad went down last season, Tanner Morgan took over and impressed. Now both sophomores, the two were again battling for the starting job until Annexstad injured his foot in early August. It’s not clear exactly how long he’ll be out, but Morgan will almost certainly start the season. Freshmen Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer will be competing for the backup spot.
The good news is that four players with starting experience are back. The bad is that Donnell Greene, who graduated, is not one of them. Greene’s absence leaves a big hole, both literally and figuratively. Sam Schlueter, who started the last six games of 2018, will replace him at left tackle. Sophomore right tackle Daniel Fa’alele, who started playing football in his late teens, is a guy who could make a big jump forward this season. Watch for him- at 6’9″ and 400 lbs., he’s tough to miss.
No breakdown of the Minnesota offense would be complete without a brief look back here. A year ago, the Gophers’ run game appeared to be headed for disaster after juniors Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith were both injured early in the season. Enter Mohamed Ibrahim. The now-sophomore rushed for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns and was named MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl. It’s an embarrassment of riches in the Minnesota backfield now, as all three are healthy. Don’t overlook sophomore Bryce Williams (504 yards, 4 TDs), either.
Nationally, Tyler Johnson is underappreciated. The senior exploded last year for 78 catches, 1,169 yards, and 12 scores. (Keep in mind, this was with two freshmen throwing him the ball.) Johnson will still be the primary focus in the passing game, but he’s got a trio of talented sophomores around him for defenses to keep in mind. Rashod Bateman, Chris Autman-Bell, and Demetrius Douglas all showed flashes last season.
The Gophers threw to the tight ends very, very rarely last year. With their wide receivers, they didn’t need to. However, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Brevyn Spann-Ford. At 6’7″ and 260 lbs., he provides a unique threat as a receiver.
So there’s your breakdown of the Minnesota offense. They’re still a young group, but a lot of those players received a baptism by fire last season. We’ll see how much the quarterbacks have improved, but with the three-headed monster at running back, the team should be able to achieve with even average quarterback play.