Football notebook: Bennett puts up big numbers

Junior Deleon Eskridge during a scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium in April. Eskridge finished with 12 carries for 40 yards Thursday night against Middle Tennessee State.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Junior Deleon Eskridge during a scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium in April. Eskridge finished with 12 carries for 40 yards Thursday night against Middle Tennessee State.

Josh Katzenstein

It took until his junior season, but Duane Bennett finally looks like the star running back the Gophers have lacked the past few seasons. He was the definition of a work horse Thursday, running 30 times for 187 yards in a 24-17 win at Middle Tennessee State. He ran inside, he ran outside. He ran with power and finesse and showed why heâÄôs the starter. âÄúHeâÄôs been impressive all fall camp, and I think weâÄôve all been waiting for him to kind of go back out there and be that running back that he wants to be,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúHe seemed like a whole new back compared to last year.âÄù Bennett was the starter last season as well, but was coming off an injury and split carries with Kevin Whaley and DeLeon Eskridge. Bennett finished the year with just 98 carries for 395 yards. As a true freshman in 2007, Bennett appeared to be the running back of the future, amassing 106 yards in a game against Michigan and 442 yards for the season. But in the second game of 2008, Bennett tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ending his hopeful sophomore campaign. He was given a redshirt for the missed season, giving him an extra year of eligibility. Now in 2010, Bennett looks ready to take control and be the alpha dog in the backfield. The first offensive play Thursday was a handoff to Bennett, who ran for 32 yards. Two plays later he ran for 25 yards. In total he had five carries go for double-digit gains. âÄúItâÄôs a great feeling to know that weâÄôre getting back to the style of play that weâÄôve been trying to achieve,âÄù Bennett said after ThursdayâÄôs game. The game plan will likely change week to week, but Bennett and the rest of the running backs must be thrilled that the Gophers ran 67 times and threw just 17. Most of the other carries were split by junior DeLeon Eskridge (11 for 38 yards) and impressive freshman Donnell Kirkwood (12 for 50 yards). No experience, no problem for defense The Gophers had zero returning starters on defense Thursday night, but the inexperience rarely showed. The Blue Raiders averaged 32 points per game in 2009 , but the Gophers held them to just 17 points Thursday. Safeties Kyle Theret and Kim Royston are the only two starters back from last year, but Theret was suspended for the game and Royston is still recovering from a broken left leg. The young secondary gave up a few long passes, and the linebackers struggled to make a few tackles, but it was an encouraging first game for the inexperienced squad. Gophers in the pros NFL teams had to make their final roster cuts Saturday, and 10 Gophers found their names on 53-man rosters across the league, including three rookies. Wide receiver Eric Decker made the Broncos, but as a third-round draft pick, he didnâÄôt have to worry too much. Elsewhere, undrafted free agents Garrett Brown and Traye Simmons did enough to stay with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, respectively. Nine former Gophers were on the wrong end of the cuts, although cornernback Marcus Sherels and receiver Logan Payne made the Minnesota VikingsâÄô eight-man practice squad. All three of the Gophers linebackers from last yearâÄîSimoni Lawrence, Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell âÄî were cut by different teams, and the Seattle Seahawks cut tight end Nick Tow-Arnett.