Brooks powers running game resurgence

The freshman back had 174 yards on 17 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks runs for a 75-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium where Minnesota defeated Illinois 32-23. The touchdown, followed by a 2-point conversion took the gophers up 8 points, giving them a more comfortable lead.

Sam Harper

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks runs for a 75-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium where Minnesota defeated Illinois 32-23. The touchdown, followed by a 2-point conversion took the gophers up 8 points, giving them a more comfortable lead.

Ryan Falk

Illinois pulled within one of Minnesota late in the fourth quarter, and the stagnant Gophers offense needed a drive to close out the game.
 
Cue freshman running back Shannon Brooks. Brooks cutback on a run, found a huge hole and 75 yards later was in the end zone.
 
“It’s the greatest feeling, especially for a running back,” Brooks said. “[Running backs] dream of long touchdowns.”
 
The Minnesota rushing attack had taken a back seat to the passing game in the team’s last four games, but it returned to form against Illinois as the team ran for 255 
yards.
 
Brooks rushed for 174 yards on 17 carries and a career-high three touchdowns in the game.
 
“He really ran the ball hard, very physical,” redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “He does a good job with that, that’s for sure. There’s really no other way to put it. He’s an explosive back.”
 
Minnesota had its first 100-yard rusher on Saturday since Brooks’ 176-yard game against Purdue.
 
The Gophers running game suffered a setback early on Saturday, as redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith left the game after the team’s first drive.
 
Smith didn’t play in the team’s previous game against Iowa due to an ankle injury. 
 
Brooks came out of the gate strong, though, scoring two of his three touchdowns in the first half. The rookie did slip up in the second quarter, fumbling in Illinois territory to take a scoring chance away from Minnesota.
 
The Gophers stuck with Brooks, though, and continued to give him the ball throughout the game.
 
“[Brooks is] too good of a player, and he will learn from [the fumble], being a true freshman,” head coach Tracy Claeys said. “He’s important to us now. We are starting, like [senior wide receiver KJ Maye] a little bit, to move him around and try to cause some confusion and find different ways to get him the ball because of how good of an offensive player he is.” 
 
Brooks finished the game averaging 10.2 yards per attempt, helped by his long game-sealing touchdown.
 
“The mindset [on the final drive], it’s the same as the first half,” Brooks said. “Just keep doing your job, and try to do as best as you can. After a while, you’ll hit those big plays.”
 
Brooks wasn’t the only player who had a good day on the ground. 
 
Leidner added 64 yards rushing, including a career-long 33-yard run on the Gophers first touchdown drive in the first quarter. 
 
The offensive line, which battled injuries early in the year, was able to push the Illini’s front around and gave Brooks a great runniwng lane on his final carry.
 
“They do a great job with [opening holes and protecting] for what they’re working with,” Leidner said. “A lot of toughness going down there in the trenches.”