As he sat behind a table on a raised platform, Mohamed Ibrahim spoke softly as he searched for the right words.
"This is one of those games you got to go back and learn from,'' the running back said, the disappointment visible roughly an hour after the Gophers lost 13-10 to Iowa. "See what went right, see what went wrong.''
Almost everything went right for Ibrahim on a cold and windy Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. The sixth-year senior, playing in his final home game, put on a show by rushing 39 times for a career-high 263 yards, this coming against an Iowa defense that entered the game allowing an average of only 88.6 rushing yards per game. He also did so after having only 14 yards on six carries through the first quarter.
Running behind an offensive line that was physically dominating the Hawkeyes, Ibrahim led the Gophers on what was shaping up to be a drive for the ages. With the score tied 10-10, Minnesota began at its 3-yard line with 13:59 left in the fourth quarter, Ibrahim immediately extracted the Gophers from that hole by breaking off tackle for a 16-yard gain. Runs of 8, 4 and 7 followed for Ibrahim, which set up quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis' 19-yard gain as the Hawkeyes keyed on the running back. Ibrahim was dishing out the hits and taking them, too, and at one point he had to change helmets because his facemask came loose from its screws.
Nine more runs by Ibrahim followed on that march, including a 2-yarder on fourth-and-1 from the Iowa 34, and Minnesota was at the Hawkeyes 15. The Gophers appeared ready to take their first lead of the game. Until …
On his 14th carry of the 16-play, 88-yard drive, Ibrahim broke left, cut back to the middle, straining to get the first down on third-and-4. However, Iowa All-America linebacker Jack Campbell punched the ball out of Ibrahim's hands, and defensive lineman Deontae Craig recovered at the 9 with 5:07 to play.
"I wanted to fall forward, and it popped out,'' Ibrahim said.
The Gophers would get the ball back with 4:11 left, and two Ibrahim runs for 20 yards had them at the Iowa 35. On third-and-7, though, Campbell intercepted a Kaliakmanis pass and returned it 30 yards to help set up the winning field goal.
Just like that, the Gophers failed in their mission of winning the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the first time since 2014. Their goal of winning a very winnable Big Ten West, a division whose champion will have at least three conference losses, ended, too.
The finish was difficult for the Gophers to take, but coach P.J. Fleck couldn't say enough about his star running back.
"He absolutely played phenomenal,'' he said. "One play will never define how he plays in a game, ever.''
Ibrahim, who accounted for 270 of the Gophers' 399 total yards, ran his season rushing total to 1,524 yards in 10 games, which ranks second nationally. He leads FBS with an average of 152.4 yards per game, and his 19 touchdowns are a school record and tied for first in the nation. He has 4,527 career rushing yards and needs 128 over the last two games to break Darrell Thompson's program record of 4,654. All of this from a running back who tore an Achilles' tendon in the 2021 season opener.
"I was so locked into the details of the play, understanding what they were trying to do to stop the run game and having answers for it,'' Ibrahim said.
The attention now turns to the regular-season finale at Wisconsin, where the Gophers will try to win Paul Bunyan's Axe for the second consecutive year and the third time under Fleck. Ibrahim played a big part in the 37-15 win in 2018, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. Two years later, he carried for 151 yards in the Gophers' 20-17 overtime loss at Camp Randall Stadium.
"I'm willing to do whatever to help this team win,'' Ibrahim said. "That's a big reason why I came back. I understood what we wanted to accomplish as a team. You always ask me, 'How many carries will it take?' It don't matter. I'm gonna keep fighting for my team.''