Not too many coaches would seem as comfortable as Jerry Kill did Tuesday when talking about a star player possibly missing the team’s biggest game of the year.
But luckily for Gophers fans, Kill didn’t appear stressed out, mostly because of the talent Minnesota has behind starting running back David Cobb on the depth chart.
“You just never underestimate [the running backs],” Kill said. “I’m sure if [any of them] gets their number called on that we will be fine. I [have] confidence in them.”
After straining his left hamstring during last week’s game in Nebraska, Kill said Cobb would be “very questionable” for Saturday’s de facto Big Ten West championship game against Wisconsin.
“If [Cobb] is ready to go, we are going to play him. There is not doubt about that,” Kill said. “He told me on the flight home, ‘Coach, I’m not missing [Wisconsin],’ so we will see.”
With Cobb’s status in question, redshirt senior Donnell Kirkwood and junior Rodrick Williams will be looking to pick up where Cobb left off.
Kirkwood was the Gophers’ starting running back two years ago but suffered an injury early last year that kept him from returning to the top of the depth chart.
“I feel like [David] is one of the best backs I have ever played with,” Kirkwood said. “I enjoy watching him probably just as much as [everyone else] on Saturdays.”
While Kirkwood hasn’t played much over the past two years, the Florida native has plenty of experience running the ball.
During Kirkwood’s sophomore season, he led the team with 926 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
“I mean, I feel the same as I would on a Saturday when I am not the starting running back,” Kirkwood said. “I guess there is just a little more things on my plate this week.”
He won’t be the only one with a larger plate this week, as Williams will also get more touches if Cobb can’t play.
“Rodrick is Rodrick,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “He is going to get in there, and something is going to happen. Usually something pretty good, but something is going to happen.”
When Cobb went down against Nebraska last weekend, Williams provided a 19-yard touchdown that fueled Minnesota’s comeback.
No matter who the running back is Saturday against Wisconsin, he is sure to have a tough time, as Wisconsin features the second-best rushing defense in the Big Ten.
“I think early in the season, [Wisconsin’s defense] had some growing pains, but they have come back now and are really feeling it,” Limegrover said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Even though Kirkwood may be preparing this week as though he will be the Gophers’ starting running back, he knows never to count out Cobb — especially when a trip to the Big Ten championship game is on the line.
“David is one of the toughest guys I have ever met,” Kirkwood said. “He [would] play with a broken foot if he has to to get in the game.”