Bye week beneficial for Gophers

The Gophers will return to play this weekend at home after a bye week.

Jack Satzinger

While he didn’t register a carry in Minnesota’s 24-7 victory against San Jose State on Sept. 20, junior running back Rodrick Williams was crucial in the Gophers’ second-half push at Michigan a week later.

After that contest, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said senior running back David Cobb, who finished the 30-14 Michigan victory with 183 rushing yards, was shaken up toward the end of the game.

As Cobb sat out two series in the second half, Williams came in and ran the ball four times for 14 yards — helping the Gophers put up 10 points in the process.

Cobb later returned to finish the game. Still, he has been fighting through some aches and pains — side effects of having 124 carries on the year, which is good for fifth in the country.

But coming off a bye week, the Gophers’ star running back appears to be ready to carry the load once again.

“David Cobb was beat up pretty good. [The bye week] gives him a chance to get healthy,” Kill said. “We held probably 12, 13 guys out [of practice last week] to get them healed up.”

After the week off, Cobb ranks seventh in the nation in rushing yards with 722 on the season.

With that kind of production, opposing defenses have started to focus on stopping Cobb from reaching the end zone.

“It would be remiss to say that defenses don’t know exactly when [Cobb] is in the game and are keying on him. Defenses spend all week talking about him,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.

Cobb has become one of the nation’s harder running backs to tackle, and it’s not because he has blazing speed. The Texas native focused on lowering his pad level in the offseason and getting stronger to become Minnesota’s man in the backfield.

“[I’ve been] running with lower pad level and using [my] off-hand to shed defenders and not take on blows head-up,” Cobb said last week. “[I’m] getting a little bit stronger, losing a couple of pounds.”

On Tuesday, Kill compared Cobb to former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who set the NCAA touchdown record in 2012 by running with great vision instead of breakneck speed.

The bye week came at the right time for Cobb. He had time to repair so he can continue carrying the Gophers’ offense.

“I think it came at a good time for a lot of our guys, and we could see on Sunday when they got back into it, there was zip in the steps of the guys,” Limegrover said. “As a group, those kids are feeling as good physically right now as you can.”

While Cobb appears to be fresh for Saturday’s game, offensive lineman Zac Epping is still fighting off a high ankle sprain, Kill said.

With the bye week, Gophers defensive lineman Alex Keith had more time to heal after suffering an injury in the season opener. During that game, he recorded one sack and recovered two fumbles.

Keith played sparingly at Michigan and could see more playing time this week. But defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys appears to be fairly happy with his current defensive front, which has been a load for opposing offenses this season

But with defensive linemen Theiren Cockran and Michael Amaefula playing at a high level, Claeys said he won’t change the starting rotation just yet.

“[Keith] will get his opportunities to make plays like the rest of them will, but [Amaefula] has played well and [Cockran] has played well, so we will stick with our regular rotation and go in and see what happens,” Claeys said.