When the Gophers take the field at TCF Bank Stadium for their season opener against Michigan on Saturday night, they’ll be doing so with plenty of momentum from their breakthrough 2019 campaign but also with starters to replace, especially on defense. Here are 10 key players — five on offense, five on defense — as they try to build on that 11-2 season.
Rashod Bateman, WR
The reigning Big Ten receiver of the year gave the Gophers an immediate boost by reversing course and committing to play this season. He caught 60 passes for an average of 20.3 yards with 11 touchdowns as a sophomore last year, and with Tyler Johnson now catching balls in the NFL, Bateman’s role becomes even more important.
Chris Autman-Bell, WR
Playing Robin to Bateman’s Batman will be Autman-Bell, a junior with a knack for big-game heroics. His incredible toe-tapping TD catch to force OT against Fresno State and his tunnel screen TD against Penn State were two of the most impactful plays for the Gophers in 2019. Look for an increase on his stats from last year (28 catches, 371 yards, five TDs).
Tanner Morgan, QB
Deftly handling the reins of the Gophers offense in 2019 was Morgan, who set school single-season records for passing yards (3,253), TD passes (30), completion percentage (66%) and pass efficiency rating (178.7). He’ll try to build on that under a new offensive co-coordinator/QB coach in Mike Sanford Jr., who replaced Kirk Ciarrocca, now at Penn State.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB
Ibrahim shared the backfield last year with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks but will have the No. 1 job this year. A punishing, move-the-chains runner, Ibrahim rushed for 1,160 yards in 10 games as a freshman and 604 in seven games last year, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. His big-game chops include rushing for 121 yards at Wisconsin in 2018 and a combined 364 yards in the Quick Lane and Outback bowls.
Blaise Andries, OL
A team can’t average 34.1 points per game like the Gophers did last year without a strong offensive line, and Andries leads that unit. A third-team All-Big Ten selection last year, Andries is a guard by trade but has filled in at both tackle spots when needed. The 6-6, 325-pounder is sure to be on the radar of NFL scouts.
Boye Mafe, DE
With Carter Coughlin in the NFL, Mafe is poised to step in as the Gophers’ top pass rusher. The athletic 6-4, 260-pounder has NFL-like attributes such as a 40½-inch vertical jump and a 4.57-second 40-yard dash. Mafe had 14 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss and three sacks last year, and those stats should increase in his junior season.
Micah Dew-Treadway, DT
The 6-4, 315-pound transfer from Notre Dame anchored the middle of the defensive line capably last season, collecting 13 tackles and 2½ tackles for loss for a unit that finished third in the Big Ten in total defense. With the disruptive Sam Renner having graduated, Dew-Treadway’s role becomes more important.
Mariano Sori-Marin, LB
Gone are productive multiyear starters Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber, so Sori-Marin assumes a leadership role. The junior started seven games last year and made 42 tackles. His presence becomes even more important because of the uncertain status of Braelen Oliver (injury during spring practice).
Benjamin St-Juste, CB
The transfer from Michigan burst on the scene last year, working his way into the starting lineup and tying with Coney Durr for the team lead with 10 pass breakups. St-Juste played his best late in the season, making nine tackles against Wisconsin and six in the Outback Bowl victory over Auburn.
Jordan Howden, S
No one on the Gophers roster has bigger shoes to fill than Howden, a junior who takes over for All-America safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Howden faced trial by fire when Winfield was injured in 2018. In 2019, interception against Penn State sealed an upset victory. His 57 tackles are the most of any returning Gopher.