It’s official: Rodney Smith has been lost for the season. The redshirt senior running back, expected to lead the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ offense this season, has been sidelined with a left knee injury suffered against Fresno State.
#Gophers confirm senior running back Rodney Smith will miss the rest of the season because of a left knee injury suffered Saturday against Fresno State. "I am devastated for Rodney,'' coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement.— Randy Johnson (@RJstrib) September 10, 2018
Less than a year ago, the Gophers expected to enter this season with the formidable tandem of Smith and Shannon Brooks at running back. Now, Smith is out for the year and Brooks, recovering from his own knee injury suffered last winter, is expected to be limited to four games of action so he can redshirt and return next season.
Head coach P.J. Fleck also mentioned in his statement that they will apply for a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship. Smith would appear to fit the criteria, but we’ll have to wait for an official ruling from the NCAA after the season.
But what about this season?
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim was the clear back-up to Smith through preseason camp and he made his presence known in the season opener, rushing for 101 yards on nine attempts. But at the end of a 74-yard gain late in the game, Ibrahim suffered an ankle injury and did not return to the game. He was in uniform against Fresno State, but did not see the field.
Next up was true freshman back Bryce Williams, who saw limited action against New Mexico State but stepped in to carry the load against Fresno State when Smith went down on the first drive of the game. There wasn’t much running room behind a struggling offensive line, but Williams finished with 87 rushing yards on 25 attempts.
He finally found room to work on the Gophers’ final touchdown drive, taking four consecutive carries for 25 yards and two first downs to take Minnesota into the red zone and allow Seth Green to punch it in from three yards out for the go-ahead score.
Let’s hope he can build on that, because for now Williams is your starter, at least until Ibrahim is back to 100 percent. Redshirt junior Jonathan Femi-Cole came in to spell Williams, primarily on third downs, against Fresno State, so I expect he’ll be the “spare” in the Gophers’ “pair and a spare” once Ibrahim is back in play. I don’t know when you can expect to see Brooks, but I know he won’t see the field until he is 100 percent, either.
The conversation around Brooks is a little more intriguing now, but it all depends on when he will be cleared to see the field. If the original plan was to ride Smith this season and turn it over to Brooks next year, do they essentially swap seasons if Brooks is 100 percent earlier than anticipated? Again, it all depends on his health, but the coaching staff could either have both next season or try to salvage this season with Brooks.
Behind Williams, Ibrahim, and Femi-Cole are true freshman Nolan Edmonds and redshirt freshman Dominik London. London is believed to be at sitting at the bottom of the depth chart, and Edmonds is expected to redshirt. So if either of them sees the field for the Gophers this season, it will be a dire situation for Minnesota.