Five Gophers whose stock is on the rise after the Outback Bowl:
Tyler Johnson: The senior receiver finished his career in iconic fashion. He set Gophers bowl as well as personal records with his 12 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns, including a 73-yard score and a remarkable, one-handed, barely inbounds grab in the end zone. With the NFL draft coming and a stacked class of receivers declaring, Johnson did everything to help his prospects and leaves the Gophers as the all-time leader in receiving yards (3,305) and receiving touchdowns (33).
Bryce Witham, tight end: He is the fourth-string tight end behind starter Jake Paulson, Ko Kieft and Brevyn Spann-Ford. But he made the most of his increased playing time Wednesday with Paulson injured. He caught two passes for 12 yards — the 11-yard fourth-down conversion to seal the game and a 1-yard touchdown on fourth down after officials already overturned two other Gophers scores. He can gain from a clutch showing, but he also made an argument that the tight ends should be used for more than just extra blocking.
Mohamed Ibrahim, running back: Ibrahim reclaimed the No. 1 running back throne in the Outback Bowl, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He ascended into the stop spot as a freshman last season with injuries to seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. But he graciously took a step back this season when both returned. Now, 2020 is set to be all about Mo.
Matt Simon, interim offensive coordinator: Calling his first game against one of the best defenses in college football was no problem for the receivers coach. He has been the Gophers passing game coordinator, and they were dominant in that phase. But he also made surprising high-risk, high-reward decisions, such as calling a play-action pass to tight end Bryce Witham on fourth-and-1 from Auburn’s 41-yard line late in the game that allowed the Gophers to run out the clock. After Kirk Ciarrocca’s departure to Penn State a week ago, Simon made a strong case of why he should be the successor.
Joe Rossi, defensive coordinator: His defense was hardly on the field against Auburn, just a little more than 22 minutes, but that’s because it forced a three-and-out so often. The Gophers held Auburn’s potent rushing game, which had averaged 211 yards entering Wednesday, to just five yards in the first half and 56 overall. Auburn also converted only three of 11 third downs. Rossi was the interim coordinator last season before earning the full-time gig. And with Ciarrocca, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck’s right hand man for seven years, now gone, Rossi could become Fleck’s new No. 2.