Eskridge emerges as Gophers improve to 3-0

The Gophers might have found their starting running back. True freshman DeLeon Eskridge took the bulk of the teamâÄôs carries and rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns in MinnesotaâÄôs 35-23 win against Montana State on Saturday. âÄúI donâÄôt know that weâÄôve declared a starter, but I think weâÄôre going to continue to look towards that guy,âÄù head coach Tim Brewster said. Brewster needed to find a replacement for starter Duane Bennett , who earlier this week was ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Brewster had said he would give three backs a chance to win the starting job âÄî Eskridge, true freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas âÄî and that he wasnâÄôt looking to âÄúsplit this thing up three ways.âÄù Salamon, who took over after Bennett was injured against Bowling Green last week, was given the start but didnâÄòt last long. He had just two carries in the teamâÄòs first three possessions âÄî all three-and-outs âÄî before being replaced by Eskridge . Thomas, meanwhile, didnâÄôt touch the ball on offense . âÄú[Eskridge] just kind of played his way into it,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThatâÄôs what I said I wanted to see, one guy kind of grab the bull by the horns and say, âÄòI want to be the guy,âÄô and today DeLeon Eskridge did that.âÄù And while Brewster said he still plans on playing both Salamon and Thomas next weekend against Florida Atlantic, Eskridge obviously impressed teammates and coaches. âÄúHe came through,âÄù senior receiver Eric Decker said. âÄúIâÄôve said it before, he was a great high school back and I think he can prove himself to be one of the best college backs.âÄù Eskridge was given the ball in most short yardage situations âÄî all three of his touchdowns were from less than five yards out âÄî and also broke off a 28-yard run . It was the first 100-yard rushing game for a Minnesota player since Duane BennettâÄôs 106 against Michigan last year . The Gophers gained just 65 total yards in the first quarter and trailed the Bobcats (1-2 overall) by six . The game, MinnesotaâÄôs only against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision , stayed close until the fourth quarter . Brewster wasnâÄôt entirely happy with it, especially with the Gophers being outgained in total yardage and giving up 21 first downs . âÄúThereâÄôs some disappointment there in that IâÄôm not sure we improved as much today as I wanted,âÄù he said. âÄúI thought we improved greatly from week one to week two, but I donâÄôt think we improved as much today.âÄù The Gophers (3-0) did have plenty to be encouraged about, however, scoring touchdowns all five times they were inside the 20-yard line and intercepting three passes while not turning the ball over . Senior defensive lineman Willie VanDeSteeg was involved with two sacks, blocked a field goal and led the team with 10 tackles. Decker was eight yards short of a career high for receiving yards , with 165 on nine catches. He had all but 30 of the teams receiving yards , a reminder of the void left by Bennett, who was second on the team in receiving before he was injured. Salamon had just one reception and the Gophers didnâÄôt attempt a pass to Eskridge . But for now, at least they have their running back. âÄúThatâÄôs what I came here for,âÄù Eskridge said. âÄúTo just get a chance.âÄù