The glory days of the Glen Mason years featured a running attack that was one of the best in the nation. Mason had talented and bruising offensive lines that could open up holes that you could drive a car through. And those teams had a couple of running backs that knew what to do with those holes.
Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney as running backs were probably more similar to each other than they were different, but their differences are what made them such an effective 1-2 punch. Maroney could scorch you outside with this speed, and Barber could lower his shoulder and make you pay for trying to tackle him.
Fast forward to 2011, and we don't have an MB3 or a Laurence Maroney on this Golden Gopher football team. Those were special players that played behind special offensive lines, and we just don't have that kind of talent at RB right now.
But we do have two backs who are similar in stature, but different in styles who just might compliment each other well.
Duane Bennett is like a Mustang, and a Mustang is important in any offense. You need a quick back who is tough and can hit the line, but who can also bounce a run outside when a hole closes up, get outside around a DE, and turn on the jets down the sideline.
You need a Mustang.
But sometimes you need a one-ton pickup. And I think Donnell Kirkwood has the ability to play MB3 to Duane Bennett's Laurence Maroney.
When Duane Bennett gets a hand-off, he's looking for a whole, but he doesn't need one to make things happen. If Bennett can get a little space, or get outside, he's got the ability accelerate quickly and really bite off big chunks of yards. He can run around you, he can spin by you, and he can change direction to make you miss. He's not afraid to run up the middle, and he doesn't avoid it, but it's not where he's best.
When Kirkwood gets the ball, and he sees a hole, he absolutely attacks it. There isn't a thought in his mind about bouncing it outside, or backing off. He's got a bit more of a bowling ball frame than Bennett, so if there happens to be somebody who comes in to fill that hole, they are going to get the full wrath of Kirkwood's frame. And because Kirkwood runs his nuts off every single time he has the ball, that defender is going to get Kirkwood's full wrath and they are probably going to go backwards because DK only knows how to fall forward.
If Matt Limegrover wants to establish a running presence up the middle early in games, he should be doing it with Donnell Kirkwood, not Duane Bennett. Thus far it seems that instead of staggering these two backs, Limegrover has chosen to give a heavy dose of Bennett early, and then sprinkle Kirkwood in throughout the game.
But in my opinion, the best way to use these two guys is to keep defenses off balance throughout the entire game, along with, of course, the threat of Gray running at any time. This would give the Gophers the chance to establish things up the middle, but still keep the defense honest with some runs bouncing outside, and a few QB draws for good measure.
The bottom-line is that this offense needs to figure out a way to be able to run the ball with the running backs so that Q can focus on being a quarterback sometimes. Remember the last time that we had a QB who was also our leading rusher?
It was Adam Weber in 2007. Remember how well that worked out?
(And remember who our one win was that season?)