Laurence Maroney never saw the field. Gary Russell didn’t even see half of it.
Before the end of Minnesota’s football team’s previous game at Indiana, Amir Pinnix hadn’t seen the field in five games.
But when he got the call for an injured Gary Russell in the second quarter, Pinnix ran the length of it ” twice ” and then some.
The sophomore third-stringer rushed for 206 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, carrying a banged up Minnesota football team to a 41-18 drubbing of Michigan State on Saturday in front of an announced 45,187 at the Metrodome.
“I thought I had the potential,” Pinnix said. “But you never know what will happen. You just have to stay ready. But 206 yards? I wowed myself.”
Gophers coach Glen Mason said Maroney was cleared by team doctors and could have played. But Mason said he chose to sit Maroney because he thought that if Maroney played, he would have aggravated his bruised ankle to the point where he wouldn’t be able to play Saturday’s game at Iowa. It was the first game Maroney has missed in his career.
Russell made his first career start in Maroney’s place and rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
But Russell was drilled by Spartans safety Eric Smith and knocked out of the game in the second quarter. Russell returned later in the half to score his second touchdown of the game and 18th of the season ” breaking Marion Barber III’s school record of 17 rushing touchdowns in 2003 ” but was held out of the second half with a likely concussion.
“He was fine to go in at the end,” Mason said. “But A. Why would I take a chance? and B. (Pinnix) was having his day in the sun. He was cleared (by doctors), but we were trying to get him a little more time (to rest). By the time he said, “Hey coach, I’m ready to go,’ I said, “We don’t need you.’ “
The first-half scoring began and ended with 1-yard runs by Russell. Minnesota’s Willie Van DeSteeg blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by Matt Haughey on Michigan State’s second possession, but Haughey made a 31-yarder later that cut Minnesota’s lead to 7-3.
That would be it until the fourth quarter for the high-powered Spartans offense, which came into the game as the nation’s fifth best.
“I’d take that every week,” safety John Pawielski said. “It was a phenomenal effort.”
Minnesota’s Matt Spaeth caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Bryan Cupito for Minnesota’s second score and the Gophers took a 21-3 lead into the half.
Late in the third quarter, Minnesota capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive in which Pinnix carried 11 times with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Cupito to Ernie Wheelwright.
Pinnix scored his first touchdown of the season on a 4-yard run with 6:28 remaining in the game. That score separated a pair of Spartans touchdown passes from Drew Stanton to Dwayne Holmes and Terry Love.
Jason Lamers ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left for Minnesota’s final points ” set up by none other than Pinnix’s 14-yard run to set up first-and-goal on Michigan State’s 1-yard line.
“Good things happen to good people,” Mason said.
“And Amir’s a good person. Sometimes it’s frustrating for those young guys when they know they’ve got the ability, and they’re dying to play, and they go out every day, and they’re working their tail off, and they’re sitting behind two other good running backs. But he made the most of it.”