Nelson, Cobb pace squad to signature win

Philip Nelson and David Cobb led a well-balanced run attack in the game.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota coaches have remained rather coy about the quarterback competition between sophomore Philip Nelson and redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner this season.

They also have yet to name a concrete starting running back, rotating between three players all season.

It might be an easier decision after the 34-23 win against No. 25 Nebraska over the weekend.

“If you’re going to win Big Ten football games, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys said after the win.

That was the clear recipe for success Saturday. The Gophers boasted a strong running game headed by Nelson and running back David Cobb.

Nelson and Cobb both played pivotal roles in the upset win over the Cornhuskers and seemed to secure the starting quarterback and running back spots, respectively.

Minnesota finished with 271 yards rushing, and Nelson and Cobb combined to account for more than 70 percent of those yards.

“We know who we are, and we know what we like to do,” Cobb said after the game. “We feel like we have a great [offensive line], great skill players, so we just took it to them.”

Nelson finished the game 7-for-15 for 152 passing yards and a touchdown. He also plunged into the end zone twice on quarterback sneaks from one yard out.

Cobb, however, might have outshone Nelson, carrying 31 times for 138 yards. Cobb started the year as a third-stringer but has since emerged as the go-to guy in the backfield.

He has looked like a prototypical running back since he stepped on campus, but he has struggled to crack the lineup. He saw his opportunity this season as Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams went down with injuries, and he ran with it.

“It’s all about opportunity for him,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said of Cobb. “He’s running with it, literally and figuratively. … That light bulb’s come on for him.”

Cobb has been far and away the most effective runner on the team this year. He’s gashed opposing defenses with his power-running style but has also shown a bit of wiggle on the outside.

Cobb already has 615 yards rushing and could eclipse 1,000 by the end of the season. He had one attempt for eight yards during all of last season.

“The biggest thing is coaches having confidence in me,” Cobb said Saturday. “When they have the confidence in you, it gives you confidence in yourself to go out there and play.”

Limegrover wouldn’t name a starter at either position after the game, but he said different opponents will dictate the starter at quarterback in the coming weeks.

After the game, Nelson didn’t seem to mind the mystery.

“Whatever we’re doing right now is working,” he said, “and that’s all that really matters.”