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Gopher Running Backs, Upgrade or Downgrade in 2019?

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So much experience, only one ball. Will the Gopher running backs be an upgraded unit in 2019?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on to running backs, another position that seems pretty clearly an upgrade, based solely on everyone returning.

2018

Starter: Mohamed Ibrahim (mostly)
Depth: Bryce Williams
Injured: Rodney Smith (2 games played) & Shannon Brooks (1 game)

Well the season began with Rodney Smith poised to move up the Gopher record books and carry the Gopher offense till Shannon Brooks was to come back mid-season with fresh legs to give the Gophers more juice on offense.

Turns out Smith was lost for the season on his first carry of the second game. Brooks came back in 8th game, only to not play again the rest of the season. And both combined for 308 yards rushing and 1 touchdown.

So, much like so many other positions, the rushing responsibilities fell to a couple of freshmen. True freshman Williams got the first crack at starting, which lasted for 2 games before the redshirt freshman Ibrahim took over and led the Gopher backfield for the rest of the season.

Ibrahim had a very nice season and was able to get over the 1,000 yard mark while also leading the team in rushing touchdowns with 9. Williams was primarily the backup and had a very nice 502 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.

2019

Starter: Rodney Smith & Mohamed Ibrahim
Depth: Bryce Williams & Shannon Brooks
Freshmen: Treyson Potts & Cameron Wiley

Now all four return with all but Brooks getting a clean bill of health to start the season. It is a rather nice problem to have when you have 3 running backs on your roster who have all had 1,000 yard seasons.

It all starts with Smith, the senior who has a chance to finish among the top 3 all-time Gopher rushers. Assuming full health, he will be the game one starter and while he won’t be the exclusive ball-carrier, he will likely get the most carries. With the most experience and the most dynamic talent, Smith is the leader in this backfield. Fortunately there is other talent surrounding him to keep him fresh.

Ibrahim, after having a breakout season as a redshirt freshman is most likely to be the first to spell Smith. Last year he ended up averaging 116 yards per game and a 5.7 yard per carry average, the former number was second in the Big Ten to Jonathan Taylor. Those are really good numbers, especially when you factor in that he wasn’t able to pad his stats against the weaker non-conference opponents.

Williams looked dynamic in his two starts and subsequent carries, but he also looked like a true freshman. Conventional wisdom suggests he’ll run third here, but don’t be surprised if he moves his way up the depth chart. He’ll get carries, he is stronger than he was a year ago and he’ll be improved.

Brooks has always been a favorite back of mine and he is so talented. But his injuries have kept him out for the better part of two seasons. His recovery is slower and he won’t be ready immediately. But once again, he may come back in the Big Ten season with fresh legs and he is talented enough to demand more time on the field.

Behind these four are a couple of true freshmen in Wiley and Potts. Will they play? Unlikely, unless they are so talented that they leapfrog the names above. If that is the case, this is very good for Gopher fans.

Last but not least is the secret weapon in Seth Green. Is he a running back? No. But what is he really? There’s a very good chance he leads the team in rushing touchdowns.

Upgrade / Downgrade

Once again, this would appear to be an upgrade based solely on everyone returning and being a year older. Regression is possible, but with four guys in the stable one would assume that at least a couple of them will show a little improvement. Injuries are always the primary enemy, but this unit has some reliable depth it can lean on.

The wide receivers are getting a lot of love this offseason, but this should be a very good rushing team as well.

Poll

Are the running backs as a unit and upgrade or a downgrade?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    Upgrade - too many backs, not enough balls
    (330 votes)
  • 7%
    Neutral - we’ll be happy with 2,200 yards
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    Downgrade - if you think Marion Barber is walking through that tunnel
    (2 votes)
358 votes total Vote Now