Smith steps up in close loss

The redshirt junior had career highs in receptions and receiving yards in the Penn State game.

Junior wide receiver Brian Smith is tackled on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium while playing against Indiana State.

Image by Alex Tuthill-Preus

Junior wide receiver Brian Smith is tackled on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium while playing against Indiana State.

by Jack White

Minnesota will need different players to step up for the remainder of the conference schedule if it wants to find success.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Brian Smith rose to the occasion in the first game of the conference schedule, even if it ended in an overtime loss.

Smith caught seven balls for 101 yards against Penn State on Oct. 1.

“It’s really been positive,” said offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. “He’s kind of stayed with it and has continued to battle and has really done a good job. I give him all the credit in the world because he’s catching the ball, being assignment sound and doing things he needs to do to get open. It’s been amazing because we kind of saw it at the start of camp and sometimes you think there’s going to be the drop off, but there really wasn’t.”

Smith led the team in receptions and receiving yards among wide receivers in the Penn State game.

He said he knew there was room in the lineup when former wide receiver KJ Maye graduated.

“There was a big door there, big opportunity,” Smith said. “It’s my job. It was there whether I was going to take or not. Just make sure I was doing the right things on and off the field, kept progressing in terms of football.”

Though Smith was the leading receiver last game and is an upperclassman on the team, head coach Tracy Claeys said they are not going to give him a bigger role.

“I just see him keep doing the same thing,” Claeys said. “That’s it. Our receivers are catching the ball … who’s ever open, that’s who we want Mitch to throw it to and catch.”

One of the reasons the team will not look for Smith in the passing game is because of quarterback Mitch Leidner’s successful work.

Leidner hit seven different receivers during the Penn State game and has found 13 different receivers this season.

Leidner said he knew Smith was a guy he could count on in the summer heading into this season.

“I think it was this summer [he] really grew up, really matured,” Leidner said. “He was a guy that would call to get extra work in, and that’s when I could finally tell he was ready to take his game to the next level. Being a bigger guy, having all the tools, how smooth of a route runner and his hands. I think everybody has always known that he has what it takes.”

Smith didn’t see action for the Gophers until he earned a starting wide receiver position for the Oregon State game. Claeys said Smith has matured since he walked onto the program in 2013.

“Brian has grown up and matured a lot and played a lot more consistently,” Claeys said. “I’m glad to see good things happening for him, but we just need to keep catching the ball the way we’re catching it.”

Smith had more receptions in his last game than he had all season so far. Smith credits some of his improvement to his wide receiver coach, Brian Anderson.

“I’m still not the fastest, but I’ve learned how to use what I have and make it work to the best of my ability and think that’s credit to [Anderson] and the things he’s taught us as receivers,” Smith said.