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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell to miss rest of 2022 season

In the first half of Saturday’s 49-7 victory over Colorado, Autman-Bell landed awkwardly after trying to adjust to an off-target throw from Tanner Morgan. Visibly distraught, Autman-Bell needed assistance to leave the field and went to a hospital for further tests.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Minnesota
Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell catches a 39-yard touchdown pass ahead of University of Colorado cornerback Nikko Reed at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Bell would later leave the game with a season-ending injury.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For a second straight year, the University of Minnesota Gophers football team has endured a season-ending injury in the opening month to one of its most dynamic offensive players.

The lower right leg injury suffered by top receiver Chris Autman-Bell on Saturday will force surgery on Wednesday and end his 2022 season, head coach P.J. Fleck said Monday.

“Your heart breaks for him because he’s worked incredibly hard,” Fleck said.

In the first half of Saturday’s 49-7 victory over Colorado, Autman-Bell landed awkwardly after trying to adjust to an off-target throw from Tanner Morgan. Visibly distraught, Autman-Bell needed assistance to leave the field and went to a hospital for further tests.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Minnesota
University of Minnesota wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell is helped off the field alongside head coach P.J. Fleck after an injury in the second quarter Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, against the University of Colorado in Minneapolis. Autman-Bell will now be out the rest of the season.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports

On behalf of Autman-Bell, the university will appeal to the NCAA for a seventh season of eligibility. The appeal should be approved given Autman-Bell has played less than 30 percent of this season and he hasn’t used a medical redshirt. The sixth-year senior redshirted as a freshman in 2017, then every player was given a free year due to the pandemic in 2020.

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“That will be up to his family and him whether he decides to do that or not,” Fleck said. “He’s a huge member of this football team, will continue to be a huge member of this football team.”

He leads the team with 11 receptions, 15 targets and 217 receiving yards and is tied for team lead with one touchdown through three nonconference games.

On Monday morning, Autman-Bell quoted one of Mo Ibrahim’s tweets from last September with a prayer emoji.

Ibrahim had ruptured his Achilles tendon a few days prior and wrote: “What if everything you are going through is preparing you for what you’ve asked for?”

Autman-Bell also tweeted: “delayed, not denied. been though hell & back already, I’m ready for everything that comes with this.”

Chris Autman-Bell
Chris Autman-Bell
Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel

After the Colorado game, Ibrahim said the message after his devastating injury a year ago was keeping the focus on the collective.

“Last year when I went down the main emphasis was keep on rowing together,” Ibrahim said. “I think that is the important message. Row together. Stick together. You will get through it with each other.”

Fleck said it didn’t take Autman-Bell long to wipe away his tears, but the program will be mindful of his mental health. “Going through an injury, there is a grief process, and grief has stages,” Fleck said. “We are very aware of that and proactive of that. He’s got a great attitude right now, I know he does, but there are stages.”

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MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
Victory marked first time Minnesota won in East Lansing since 2009
The 27-point win over the Spartans was Minnesota's closest game this season.
Minnesota travels to Michigan State to open up Big Ten play on Saturday
Minnesota is collecting data on how much players are exerting on the field and when they might be on the verge of an injury
Minnesota (3-0) heads into the Big Ten opener against Michigan State (2-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
Autman-Bell accounted for 23% of the Gophers’ targets through 3 weeks
Geary will be part of a group of wideouts asked to step up as No. 1 pass-catching target Chris Autman-Bell was lost to a season-ending leg injury against the Buffaloes.
Minnesota has been all business against three incredibly weak programs: arguably the worst Division I outfit in New Mexico State, a rebuilding FCS team in Western Illinois and possibly the worst Power Five program in Pac-12 member Colorado. Those three teams are a combined 0-10 this season.
The East has all the ranked teams but the West should be wild, with Minnesota in the hunt for its first Big Ten title of any sort since 1967
Gophers have outscored their opponents 149-17 through 3 games

They will monitor his feelings of fear, loss and uncertainty about the future, Fleck said, and after surgery, will bring him back close to the team to help coach. “Whatever we do this year, he is a major piece of it because of the type of leader he is, and that will only get stronger as the year goes on,” Fleck said. “It’s only going to teach him more and more life lessons.”

The Gophers leaned heavily on Autman-Bell with their passing game, targeting him with a team-high 23 percent of passes in three games, a share that would have been higher if starters had not exited the game during the second half of three blowout wins.

Autman-Bell’s nearly one-fourth share was 6% more than the No. 2 target. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Autman-Bell: 15 targets/11 receptions; 23%
  • Brevyn Spann-Ford: 11/8; 17%
  • Michael Brown-Stephens: 9/6; 14%
  • Dylan Wright: 8/4; 12%
  • Clay Geary: 4/4; 6%
  • Lemeke Brockington: 4/3; 6%

The other four on that list will be among the primary pass-catchers asked to step up.
“If this happens maybe three or four years ago, maybe it has a different vibe,” Fleck said. “… We are deeper than we’ve been.”

Receiver Daniel Jackson returned from an ankle injury to make his season debut against Colorado, making two receptions on two targets against the Buffaloes. Jackson accounts for three percent of total targets this season, and his share is projected to increase going into Big Ten play.

The remaining 20% of targets through three games went to backup receivers, backup tight ends and a handful of running backs. That includes Ibrahim, Bryce Williams and Jamison Geers having two receptions on two targets each.

The Gophers will use a by-committee approach to replacing Autman-Bell, but how much they will miss their go-to guy is to be determined, starting Saturday at Michigan State.

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