Gophers’ Fleck managing workload for Ibrahim, Potts

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When the Gophers finished the first half of Thursday night's football season opener against New Mexico State with Tanner Morgan's 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown, the lead grew to 24-0, leaving little doubt about which team would win.

Still, there were a couple of questions left to be answered:

1. Would the Gophers cover the 36½-point spread set by the Las Vegas oddsmakers? They did, winning 38-0.

2. How long would the Gophers leave their starters in the game? That answer varied.

The second question carried much more intrigue and importance than the first because of the circumstances surrounding the Gophers backfield. Both starting running back Mohamed Ibrahim and primary backup Trey Potts were returning from season-ending injuries. They took their first live contact in a game in 12 and 11 months, respectively.

Coach P.J. Fleck had to balance wanting Ibrahim and Potts to get plenty of work, but not too much to avoid the chance of injury. Fleck liked where he landed, with Ibrahim rushing 21 times for 132 yards and two TDs and Potts carrying 17 times for 89 yards and a score.

"When you look at their carries, that was very manageable for Game 1," Fleck said. "… You only get 11 [more] guaranteed opportunities. That's 33 total hours over the next three months of work, and we're gonna have to do what it takes to win football games."

Ibrahim rushed 19 times for 121 yards in the first half. The first-team offense returned to the game in the third quarter, with Ibrahim rushing twice for 11 yards and having a third carry wiped out by a penalty. His night was over after that.

Potts then took over, rushing five times for 26 yards on the 13-play march that drained 8:29 off the clock and ended with the Gophers leading 31-0. On their next series, Potts carried five times for 27 yards, capped by a 1-yard TD run for a 38-0 lead with 7 seconds left in the quarter, his last run of the game.

"Both of them are trained to take on the heavy load," Fleck said. "If we have to throw the ball, the majority of the game, they're ready to pass protect. And I know that both of them love that responsibility. But when you get a chance to help them and take some hits off them, you do everything you can to make sure that you can limit that, which we were able to do."

Fleck kept his starting offensive line in the game through the third quarter, and the team received a scare when left guard Axel Ruschmeyer suffered a lower leg injury that forced him to leave the game. Fleck on Monday said Ruschmeyer is fine. He is expected to play Saturday against Western Illinois.

"We needed to gain reps, especially with the new offensive line gelling together," Fleck said. "That's the group that takes the longest to gel together."

Fleck said there's no specific point in a blowout game when he believes it's time to remove his starters. Rather, he sees it as a combination of factors.

"It's about the point of the game plus how many plays have been played," he said. "It's our first game of the year. We kept our 'Ones' in there till right around the beginning of the fourth quarter. We needed to play snaps. We needed to play football."

That was especially true for Minnesota's defense, which played only 33 snaps all night. The Gophers defense allowed the Aggies only six first downs while Minnesota's offense kept the ball for 44:30.

"Last thing I want is our defense playing 90 snaps,'' Fleck said. "… And if you're splitting time, you played 15 snaps. It's why we practiced yesterday and went for a while because we have to play more football.''