This week at The Daily Gopher, we are paying a visit to Minnesota’s running back room and taking a closer look at the candidates to be key contributors in the #GopherGroundGame.
The biggest knock against Trey Potts is his vision (or lack thereof at this point). His instinct at the first sign of traffic is to bounce outside, which makes sense given his skill set. With his speed, if he can get to the perimeter and turn up field, more power to him. I mean, look what he does here against Maryland, bouncing outside for a 24-yard scamper down the sideline:
And to his credit, that proved effective against the Terps. Potts gained 13 yards on the very next play by running around his offensive line, and later capped the scoring drive with the first touchdown of his college career on a two-yard rush:
But whether he is comfortable doing so or not, at some point Potts is going to need to run between the tackles, especially if he wants to be a featured back in this offense. He did so on a couple rush attempts against Rutgers but only gained a couple of yards on what represented the first carries of his college career. Here, on a first down carry against Maryland, he makes the egregious decision to run right into a pile of bodies, when there is a gaping hole opening up to his left:
This is where I remind our readers of the caveat that we’re talking about a handful of carries here. It’s a small sample size, and that small sample size is from a true freshman. I think game experience will certainly go a long way toward helping Potts develop.
A former teammate I’d like to see him emulate is Rodney Smith. Physically the two are similar, with Smith checking in at 5’11” and 210 lbs. as a sixth-year senior and Potts listed as 5’10” and 200 lbs. as a true freshman. Both are all-purpose backs that are dangerous in space. Smith holds the school record for career all-purpose yards, and Potts racked up a combined 3,511 all-purpose yards as a freshman and sophomore in high school.
He missed his junior season with a partial ACL tear in his right knee and the coaching staff limited him throughout his senior season to ease his recovery. Smith suffered an ACL tear of his own two games into his original senior season before bouncing back to lead Minnesota with 1,163 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a sixth-year senior.
But what made Smith so effective for the Gophers was his vision. He could be an outside rushing threat, but he also made decisive cuts between the tackles, planting his foot in the ground and breaking up field. Here are a couple examples from the Nebraska game:
This is where I could see Potts thriving in the Gophers’ offense. The goal of outside zone is to push the ball to the perimeter, but the onus is on the running back to cut upfield if a seam appears between the linemen. If Potts can continue to improve his patience and vision, he has the speed and athleticism to pick up chunks of yards slicing through defenses.
Pass protection will also be critical for Potts and the rest of Gophers’ young running backs. Smith and Shannon Brooks were both very effective pass blockers in the backfield. Don’t forget that it was Brooks picking up a blitzing defensive back against Penn State that allowed Tanner Morgan enough time to find Rashod Bateman for a 66-yard touchdown pass.