A look back at the best touchdowns of Gophers tailback Mo Ibrahim’s record-setting career
Ibrahim is the school's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns
MINNEAPOLIS — When Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was asked about Mo Ibrahim’s budding candidacy for the Heisman Trophy after Minnesota’s rout of Colorado on Sept. 10, the star running back was sitting right there. He smirked slightly, shook his head, looked down at his fingernails and picked at one.
The sixth-year senior wasn’t nervous or shy.
“That’s just not who he is,” Gophers tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford said this week. “… He’s just not the type of dude to be on self accomplishments and things like that. He wants to win, and he’s a winner. If his team is successful, he’s happy.”
Those two things haven’t been mutually exclusive this season. The Gophers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) have won big going into their Homecoming game against Purdue (2-2, 0-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, and Ibrahim has rushed for eight touchdowns in four games to give him a record-breaking 41 TDs for his collegiate career.
Ibrahim’s one touchdown in the 34-7 win over Michigan State last Saturday helped him pass Darrell Thompson for most rushing TDs in school history. Ibrahim needs three more scores of any variety to pass Thompson’s record of 43 total touchdowns, and given his pace of two touchdowns per game this season, that record might be shared by Saturday afternoon.
Thompson has been gracious in seeing his name passed in the Gophers record books; that’s how he was, too, when Rodney Smith passed him for all-purpose yards in 2019. The Gophers radio color commentator on KFXN-FM has had a bird’s eye view of Ibrahim’s career.
“It’s certainly about the collective body of work,” Thompson told the Pioneer Press this week. “… I’m excited when a guy has got the juice, and I feel like he’s got it.”
Ibrahim’s 41 touchdowns have come in 32 total games, meaning his scores often come in bunches. He has had eight games with two touchdowns, three games with three TDs and two games with a whopping four scores.
Ibrahim has 20 touchdowns of 1-yard runs, 15 spanning fewer than 10 yards, and only six have been in excess of 11 yards. With 3,570 career rushing yards, he does a lot of heavy lifting before reaching the red zone.
The Maryland native’s career-long TD run is 26 yards, and it didn’t come with much fanfare due to the pandemic in 2020. In front of an empty Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., he took a direct snap and jetted toward the pylons, but was tripped up at the end of the run and smashed into an icy fence. Oh, the glamour.
The total yardage on the touchdown runs might look pedestrian, but defenders don’t want to meet near the goal line with the generously listed 5-foot-10, 210-pound tailback — who coach P.J. Fleck once called a “bowling ball going downhill with razor blades on it.”
Here’s a look back at key touchdowns across Ibrahim’s career and a big-picture appreciation of his style:
Ohio State games
Many fans recall how well Ibrahim was playing in the 2021 season opener against No. 4 Ohio State because it added to the sting when he ruptured his Achilles tendon late in the game. He had amassed 163 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns before the injury ended his season.
His record-breaking start this season wouldn’t have been possible without grinding through a long rehab process and making the decision to come back for a sixth year.
But Ibrahim’s first collegiate touchdowns provided some foreshadowing. After the redshirt freshman didn’t get in the end zone in the first five games of 2018 (and didn’t have a carry in two games), he burst onto the scene in midseason against the No. 3 Buckeyes in Columbus with 23 carries for 157 yards and two TDs at the Horseshoe.
Ibrahim’s seventh career touchdown was his biggest to date. On fourth-and-1 at Camp Randall Stadium, Ibrahim bounced to the outside and went untouched for a 10-yard score to put Minnesota up 10-0 on arch-rival Wisconsin.
In that regular-season finale that year, the Gophers went on to beat the Badgers 37-15 and take back Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 14 years.
Against Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl, Ibrahim’s first bowl game was the first of four career 200-yard games. He rushed for 224 yards on 31 carries and added two touchdowns at Ford Field in Detroit.
Georgia Tech defensive end Desmond Branch did not know Ibrahim by name, calling him “number 24” in the postgame news conference.
A reporter relayed to Branch that that guy had eclipsed 200 yards. “Jesus,” Branch replied under his breath. He then commended Ibrahim for running hard and being difficult to bring down — before he slighted him yet again
“A hall for fame coach (the Yellowjackets’ Paul Johnson) does not deserve to get hung up — 220 yards by a Minnesota running back, in all due respect,” Branch said. “It doesn’t. That’s shame on us for not stopping him.”
Others have since found that “Minnesota running back” equally unstoppable.
Fleck was asked by the Pioneer Press on Monday which of Ibrahim’s 41 rushing touchdowns has stood out the most. “The Auburn run,” he responded. “I would say the Georgia Tech game, his coming-out party of what he was really about.”
Then Fleck went big picture: “I don’t know if there is one particular run because they are all important.”
Ibrahim’s touchdown in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on New Year’s Day 2020 was very timely and aided a signature victory. Morgan had thrown an interception on the opening drive and Minnesota was diced for a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown to fall into a 10-3 hole midway through the first quarter.
Ibrahim then tied the score with a 16-yard TD run, where he cut back through an arm tackle at the 11-yard line. Minnesota didn’t look back in a 31-24 win over then-No. 9 Auburn.
“It was all based on response, the next play,” Fleck said about the comeback. “It was a tough run, and that’s what he does.”
Stacking scores, pushing piles
Ibrahim racked up some video-game numbers en route to winning the Big Ten running back of the year award in 2020. He had 15 rushing touchdowns in that COVID-shortened, seven-game season. That included two four-touchdown games, against Maryland and Illinois; his four scores against the Terrapins all came before halftime.
In the Illinois game, one of Ibrahim’s scores came with teammates pushing him and the pile across the goal line. That has happened two other times across his career, including once at Nebraska in 2019 and on the record-tying run against Colorado two weeks ago.
Gophers offensive linemen, tight ends and receivers helped Ibrahim over the goal line from about 4 yards out. Thompson, Fleck and others have given a hat tip to this run.
Appreciation and envy
Thompson appreciates Ibrahim’s vision, balance, burst and toughness, but it’s Ibrahim’s patience that has Thompson’s envy.
“I think that is one of the most important things; that is really hard,” Thompson said. “I didn’t have it. There is a blessing to having patience, and he has that. He takes a deep breath and lets it develop. Let’s let the linebacker scrape over the top or let the guard get on his combo block and get to the next level. I didn’t really learn that or get it until the (NFL).”
Gophers receiver Mike Brown-Stephens said he will sometimes catch himself watching Ibrahim when he’s supposed to be blocking for him. “Oh, shoot, I’ve got to get going,” Brown-Stephens said.
Brown-Stephens called Ibrahim “a dog,” but thought a certain type of cat would be a better comparison. “I’m a fan of lions — I would call him a lion,” Brown-Stephens said. “He never stops. He’s ferocious. He’s out there and you just can’t bring him down just by yourself.”
Ibrahim leads the nation this season with 388 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus College, which makes Thompson even more fond of him. “He’s got a nice little mean streak in him. He’s like, ‘(expletive) this. I’m going to try to run this guy over.’
“I’m a fan of that. I tried to do that and I was maybe to a fault, with coaches and friends, saying: ‘You can’t run over everybody. You can’t fight every fight.’
” ‘Yeah, I can.’ ”
Thompson and Ibrahim “had a nice talk” in mid-September, just before Ibrahim broke the rushing TD record. The two Gophers greats plan to get together after the season to celebrate Ibrahim’s career and deepen their bond.
“We are casual acquaintances and I’d like to be closer, like I have been with many players,” Thompson said. “It just feels like it’s right.”
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