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Best Running Back in Program History? #TBT

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If Rodney Smith decides to come back in 2019 could he be the best Gopher RB?

Rodney Smith is ready to lead the Gophers into Lincoln
Rodney Smith is ready to lead the Gophers into Lincoln
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I once wrote a post trolling everyone about how Mitch Leidner is the best Gopher QB of all time because he has the most wins. And while that was a tremendous job on my part and I am happy to link to it, I don’t really believe that. Even though there is something to be said for being a part of a winning team.

It’s possible Rodney Smith comes back next season. If he does he’ll be discussed as a program leader, but is he the best ever? There are a million ways to look at this debate, team success, stats, awards, pro career.

For example Pug Lund never lost a game in his career as a Minnesota Gopher. He was a national star at left back, and could block, pass, and rush. Pug was All-Conference in both 1933 and in 1934, when he was the conference MVP. He was a consensus All-American in 1934. Bruce Smith, of course, won national championships in 1940 and 1941 and is the only Gopher to win the Heisman.

Bruce Smith IN COLOR!

However their stats paint a picture of a much different game making direct comparisons to modern day players difficult. Bruce Smith’s two years (1940 and 1941) with the Gophers he averaged 6 yards per carry, scored 9 career touchdowns and rushed for 1,015 yards. Where as Darrell Thompson’s four seasons in the late 1980s averaged 5 yards per carry, had 40 rushing touchdowns, and 4,518 rushing yards.

It’s probably unfair to compare Rodney to players like Pug or Bruce because they played on teams that dominated and received national credit for it. Then maybe a more apt comparison is Darrell Thompson, the statistical leader in most rushing categories.

Minnesota Career Rushing Stats
Career Rushing Touchdowns

What is most telling about Darrell’s stats is that he has the most TDs and career yards in program history but didn’t do it off of one dominant game or season (he’s not present in single season yards, and aside from his 1986 4 TD game vs Bowling Green he’s only tied for 4th for single season TDs).

U of M

Rodney currently only finds himself on these lists once in third place for his 16 touchdowns in 2016. Next let’s take a look at his stats to see what he would have to do in 2019 to see if he could climb into these ranks.

Rodney Smith Career

Averaging 4.5 yards per carry, 21 TDs, and almost 3,000 yards, Rodney would need 1,692 yards next season to equal Darrel’s mark. That seems unlikely (as it would beat David Cobb’s program leading 2014 season) although 1,000 more yards would put him at second all time passing Laurence Maroney. His current 21 rushing touchdowns has him tied for the 10th spot. Seth Green vultured away Rodney’s scoring chances this year anyway, but anymore scoring and he’ll begin climbing that list quickly. I think number 2 all time in career rushing yards and maybe 6th all time in TDs are achievable if Rodney comes back in 2019.

If he doesn’t come back I hope he has a hell of a career in the NFL. In the meantime I’ll give my two cents worth. Darrell Thompson is a dang man, but Pug Lund had one of his fingers amputated so he could carry the ball better. So he gets my vote for All Time Gophers Running Back.

Francis A “Pug” Lund