Without bright spotlight, Russell shines

Gary Russell is second in Division I with eight rushing touchdowns.

Matt Perkins

Through four weeks of the college football season, and especially after last week’s win over Purdue, the whole country knows Laurence Maroney’s name.

They may even know he is statistically the top running back in the nation, averaging 174.5 rushing yards per game.

But the second-highest scoring running back in the country, Gary Russell, with eight rushing touchdowns, is getting a little less face time.

And Russell’s success should look familiar, because his game looks a lot like another familiar face to Gophers fans: Marion Barber III.

“I would actually say that is who I model my game after,” Russell said. “The way he ran is a lot like the way I try to run, and it was a big help being able to watch him play last year.”

The Gophers haven’t felt the loss of Barber yet this season, with Russell more than just spelling Maroney, but rather complementing him.

Russell has 40 carries for 324 yards, an average of 8.1 yards per carry.

Just like year’s past with Maroney and Barber sharing duties, defenses this year are unable to slow up when Maroney comes out of the game.

“Gary keeps getting better every game,” coach Glen Mason said. “He’s been stepping up a lot. We’ve just got to keep finding ways to get him the ball when Laurence needs a break.”

But Russell has been seeing action in the fullback position in front of Maroney, something Russell said adds a whole new dimension to the Minnesota’s offensive attack.

“It opens up so many more options for us,” Russell said. “Plus the defense has no idea what we are throwing at them.”

Russell has even at times lined up in the slot, something the Gophers rarely, if ever, saw with Maroney’s former backfield-mate Barber.

In his career with the Gophers, Barber caught just 21 balls for 190 yards and no touchdowns.

Conversely, Russell was active and effective in Minnesota’s passing game against Purdue, with three grabs for 17 yards and a key touchdown snag.

Maroney said he feels this wasn’t a one-game fluke either, but rather something that could develop as an offensive trend if opponents continually stack the box.

“If they don’t want to respect the short passing game by overloading the box, we’ll just keep hitting them with the gimme passes,” Maroney said.

Teams are going to have to start respecting Russell, who in his Big Ten debut against the Boilermakers tallied career highs in yards, receptions, carries (16) and touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).

This weekend when Maroney heads to the sidelines Penn State must be prepared to stop Russell.

“I just play my role,” Russell said. “The line is doing such a great job. I mean I just go out there and do what I’m told. That’s my role right now as the bigger back, to get the tough yards.”