BOULDER, COLO. – Since that Thursday night in mid-August when wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell suffered a lower leg injury during training camp, the Gophers offense had been without one of its top weapons. Autman-Bell, a redshirt senior, had 78 catches for 1,250 yards in his career entering the season, and no one else on the team came close to those numbers.
That all changed Saturday at Folsom Field, where Autman-Bell made a triumphant return to the lineup in the Gophers' 30-0 victory over Colorado.
Autman-Bell finished with a game-high four receptions for 79 yards, averaging 19.8 yards per catch. He also drew a pass interference penalty that was a big help on another drive.
"I'm just so thankful to have him back,'' coach P.J. Fleck said. "He didn't have 15 catches, but just the presence of him on the field helps everybody.''
Autman-Bell made his first catch of the season on Minnesota's first possession, getting an 8-yard gain to the Colorado 11-yard line. Though Matthew Trickett missed a 26-yard field goal, the wideout's presence was paying off.
In the second quarter, quarterback Tanner Morgan found Autman-Bell for a 32-yard gain to the Buffs 13 on third-and-5, a play that set up the Gophers' first touchdown. They hooked up again for 33 yards to the Colorado 45 early in the third quarter on a drive that ended in a missed 46-yard field-goal attempt. Late in the third, Autman-Bell drew a pass interference penalty on Buffaloes defensive back Mekhi Blackmon, helping set up the TD that made it 20-0.
"It was awesome to have No. 7 back,'' Morgan said. "First and foremost, as a teammate as a brother. And second, his impact on our team.''
Among Gophers receivers, Daniel Jackson also had four catches, going for 39 yards, while Dylan Wright had one grab for 39 yards.
Big day for backup RBs
A week after rushing 34 times for 178 yards against Miami (Ohio), running back Trey Potts saw his workload go down a bit, carrying 26 times for 121 yards and three TDs.
The Gophers gave the bulk of the secondary carries to true freshman Mar'Keise "Bucky'' Irving, who rushed 15 times for 89 yards. Irving gained 15 yards on his first career carry, and his 23-yard run to the Colorado 14 in the fourth quarter set up a field goal.
Redshirt freshman Ky Thomas rushed seven times for 66 yards, including a 14-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
"They ran really, really hard,'' Fleck said of the freshmen. "They ran hard, they broke tackles. It wasn't always pretty, but we knew if we could continue to keep the ball on the ground, wear them out the best we possibly could, then we had the best chance to win.''
Keeping the faith
Trickett, who last week kicked a 50-yard field goal, missed from 26 and 46, plus on an extra-point attempt. He also made a 33-yard kick in the fourth quarter.
"You're going to make some, you're going to miss some,'' Fleck said. "I'm not sure how many perfect field-goal kickers I've ever had. … My job is to make sure that that's my guy. I'm going to keep investing in him."
* Gophers safety Jordan Howden (thigh) started Saturday after missing last week's game. He finished with one tackle.
* Former Gophers and Denver Broncos linebacker Karl Mecklenburg gave the captains' speech before Saturday's game. Mecklenburg still lives in the Denver area.