Detroit — This time last year, Minnesota freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim was taking reps on the Golden Gophers’ scout team.
Wednesday night at Ford Field, Ibrahim rushed for 224 yards — the most for a Golden Gopher since 2005 — and had two touchdowns to lead his team to a 34-10 win over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.
"(Ibrahim) never came off the field the entire year. Never missed one rep on the scout team ever," Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. "This kid's got more heart, passion, courage, plays the game the right way (more) than anyone I've ever met."
Tyler Johnson caught two touchdown passes for Minnesota (7-6, 3-6 Big Ten). Georgia Tech (7-6, 5-3 ACC) was 4-for-14 on third downs and had just 283 yards of offense in the contest.
Ibrahim surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on the season and Johnson's performance helped him become the program leader in single-season receiving yards and touchdown receptions.
The win gives Fleck, who is in his second year at Minnesota, his first winning season since leaving Western Michigan. A crowd of 27,228 fans attended the game.
Fleck started three freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line Wednesday, and Ibraham said afterward that he was very impressed with how his whole team created running lanes for him.
"I love my offensive line," Ibrahim said. "We kind of joked about it before the game, we knew I had to get 64 yards to get a thousand. And then Jared (Weyler) tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'We're going to get 200 today.' I thought he was joking, but then we went out there and got it."
Minnesota got on the board first with a field goal on its opening drive, a 31-yard chip shot by Emmit Carpenter.
Minnesota’s defense kept Georgia Tech's triple-option offense between the hash marks by stacking the box and bringing heavy pressure to quarterback TaQuon Marshall. The Golden Gophers forced two consecutive three-and-outs to start the game.
Fleck said that he used the assembly line of famed Detroit automaker Henry Ford to prepare his team for the pace of Georgia Tech's offense.
"We study that in terms of everybody's going to be able to have to do their job. Just like an assembly line," Fleck said.
"If it starts to get boring, that's good. Boring is good. If you've gotta make sure that you don't go from your job to someone else's job, that's how they beat you."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said that his team's inability to garner momentum at the game's start disrupted the Yellow Jackets' game plan.
"We got off to a terrible start offensively," Johnson said. "In a game where you don't get the ball very much and the other side's scoring you can't miss your opportunities."
Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin III didn’t do his team any favors; both of his first-quarter punts landed on the Yellow Jackets’ side of the field, with his second going just 12 yards.
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan connected with Johnson for an 18-yard passing touchdown with 4:14 left in the first to complete a seven-play, 48-yard drive that gave Minnesota a 10-0 lead.
Despite getting the ball in Georgia Tech territory on two of its first three drives, Minnesota’s offense kept its defense fresh with sustained drives that kept Marshall and Co. on the sideline. The Golden Gophers’ second field goal drive went just 29 yards but lasted nine plays and took 5:14 off the clock.
Minnesota didn't punt the entire game, and hasn't punted since the second quarter of its regular-season finale against Wisconsin.
"That was the key," Fleck said. "We had to win the time of possession."
"They're a tremendous team if you keep them close. They will find a way to control the clock, get the last possession and go score and win. We had to stay ahead of that."
Georgia Tech found its groove — and picked up its first first down of the game — midway through the second quarter.
The Yellow Jackets reached the Minnesota 29-yard line with a fourth-down conversion, but were then pushed out of field-goal range two plays later after Winston DeLattiboudere sacked Marshall for a loss of eight yards.
After Minnesota went the other way with it, Georgia Tech got the stop it needed. Jalen Johnson sacked Morgan for a loss of six on third down, and after Carpenter sent a 54-yard field goal attempt wide left, the Yellow Jackets got it back at their 36 with 18 seconds on the clock and no timeouts remaining.
Marshall scrambled for a gain of 19 and completed two quick passes to set up a 44-yard Wesley Wells field goal that went through the uprights as time expired to make it 13-3 at half.
Minnesota extended its lead after stopping Georgia Tech to open the second half. Morgan threw a 41-yard pass to Chris Autman-Bell to set up a 3-yard Ibrahim touchdown run on the next play, giving the Golden Gophers a 20-3 lead with 8:24 left in the third.
Georgia Tech reached the end zone for the first time all game with 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Nathan Cottrell capped of a 14-play drive with a 20-yard touchdown run.
Moments later, Ibrahim put some life back into the Minnesota offense, breaking off a 58-yard scamper that ended the third quarter with a bang. He scored his second touchdown of the game with 12:07 left in the fourth on a 1-yard run.
Johnson gave Minnesota a 24-point lead with 6:19 remaining on a 30-yard touchdown reception.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.