Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell needs season-ending surgery on leg

Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota will enter Big Ten play without leading receiver Chris Autman-Bell, the sixth-year standout who has been scheduled for season-ending surgery on his right leg.

The unbeaten Gophers are used to this type of setback.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen to you. It’s when, and to who,” coach P.J. Fleck said after announcing the news.

Autman-Bell was hurt in Minnesota’s 49-7 win over Colorado on Saturday, when he landed awkwardly while trying to catch on off-target throw in the second quarter. He grabbed his leg in pain, needed help leaving the field and was sent to a hospital for further examination.

“Your heart breaks for him, because he’s worked incredibly hard,” Fleck said. “He responded the way you’d see somebody respond with really hard news, but it didn’t take him long to wipe those tears away. His mind was already on what he is going to do and accomplish and come back from.”

The procedure will take place on Wednesday. Fleck didn’t specify the diagnosis, other than to describe the injury as to Autman-Bell’s lower leg. The Gophers will apply to the NCAA for a medical redshirt that would allow him to return for a seventh season, should he wish to.

Last year, they lost star running back Mohamed Ibrahim in the first game for the rest of 2021 because of a torn Achilles tendon. Ibrahim’s attitude and determination served as an inspiration to the team since then, and his decision to come back for a sixth season influenced Autman-Bell, quarterback Tanner Morgan and center John Michael Schmitz to do the same.

Autman-Bell retweeted a poignant year-old post from Ibrahim shortly after his injury with the question “what if everything you are going through is preparing you for what you’ve asked for?”

Ibrahim is tied for second in the FBS with 464 rushing yards and tied for first with seven rushing touchdowns for the Gophers (3-0), who play at Michigan State (2-1) on Saturday.

Autman-Bell, a native of Kankakee, Illinois, was in Fleck’s first recruiting class at Minnesota after flipping his commitment and following him from Western Michigan. He redshirted that first year. The 2020 season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 1,970 career receiving yards, Autman-Bell ranks ninth in program history. He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass against Colorado before he was hurt. The team’s leading returning receiver from 2021, when he had 36 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns, Autman-Bell has again been Morgan’s favored target.

The younger players around him at the position have developed to the point now where the depth ought not to drop off as sharply, with Michael Brown-Stephens, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson next in line. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford Will Likely have his pass-catching role elevated, too.

“If this happens maybe three or four years ago, maybe it has a different vibe,” Fleck said. “But there are a lot of guys who can make a ton of plays.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.