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.
Ahead of the George Southern game last season, the Gophers were without Shannon Brooks, who was still recovering from an ACL tear, and Mohamed Ibrahim, who had been banged up in their previous game. So when Minnesota needed to give Rodney Smith a breather, Cam Wiley was the first back to get the call. The true freshman was later knocked out of the game with a concussion, but he managed 11 carries for 32 rushing yards prior to his exit. The coaching staff did utilize him later in the season as an added wrinkle on kickoff returns.
Wiley was a steal on the recruiting trail for head coach P.J. Fleck and co. The Las Vegas recruit flew under the radar because he was forced to sit out his junior season after transferring high schools. And he did not have eye-popping numbers as a senior, finishing the year with 550 rushing yards on 88 attempts (6.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.
But his physical tools are undeniable. Listed at 6’2”, 215 lbs., he is the largest running back on the roster. Fleck has described him as a physical back with off-the-charts athleticism and a unique running style. His frame fits his style of play, as he fights through arm tackles and picks up a high volume of yards after contact. On top of that, Wiley also possesses impressive burst and acceleration, making for a formidable combination of size and speed.
That burst was on display in the first carry of his college career, as Wiley sliced through a mess of bodies for a gain of six yards and the first down before getting tripped up by a Georgia Southern defender diving for his legs:
But what was most noticeable from his performance against the Eagles was his ability to consistently pick up yards after contact. If you recall, that game was not a banner day for the Minnesota offensive line, so Gopher running backs spent most of the afternoon with defenders draped around them. Wiley was no exception. In fact, some of his biggest gains came on plays that required him to drive through a defender:
Unfortunately, we have less than a dozen carries to work from, so it is tough to draw any rock solid conclusions from the small sample size. But the good news is that even in limited action Wiley flashed what was promised in his scouting report. There was a play against Georgia Southern that highlights his patience and ability to make decisive cuts as he weaves through traffic:
He has not even scratched the surface of his potential, but it is clear the coaching staff is firm in their belief that Wiley can be a difference maker. He will need to work on the more technical aspects of his game, but all of the tools are there. Mohamed Ibrahim is the Gophers’ most proven commodity at running back, but Wiley may have the most upside of any back on the roster.