Rushing duo gets ground game going

Two first-year backs from Georgia have given the Gophers an offensive boost.

Minnesota defensive lineman Rashede Hageman moves to tackle a Hawkeye on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’shede Hageman moves to tackle a Hawkeye on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Mike Hendrickson

By the time the game against Ohio University started, redshirt freshman Rodney Smith had already established himself as Minnesota’s main running back.
But on Saturday, it wasn’t Smith who scored the two rushing touchdowns of the day. It was another freshman, Shannon Brooks, who took the first 10 carries of his career for 82 yards.
“He’s a very powerful runner,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “For a guy [who’s] 205, 210 pounds, he can truck you. He’s very, very strong.”
Smith still finished the game with 94 yards on 16 carries, but the team’s running game will be even stronger with the emergence of Brooks, as the team put together more than 200 rushing yards for the first time this season.
While the two freshmen are finding success, Kill said they are doing it differently.
“They’re two [kinds] of different backs,” Kill said. “[Brooks is] a down-hill, physical back, but he still has got loose hips. Rodney’s got that ‘it’ deal. They both run low to the ground; they both get extra yards. That’s probably the surprising thing.”
Both of the running backs are from Georgia and have formed a friendship with each other, rooming together before the Ohio game. They were also both recruited by wide receiver coach Brian Anderson.
Anderson said the first time he saw Smith, he knew that he could be a force on the team.
“I was like ‘it’s a no-brainer,’” Anderson said. “He [has] that ‘make you miss’ [ability], he runs strong [and] he’s a strong kid.”
With Brooks, Anderson said he believes the reason he wasn’t recruited as much is because he lived more than an hour away from Atlanta in Jasper County, and was mostly receiving offers from in-state schools.
Smith was spotted by Anderson for his strength and speed, but with Brooks, it was his ability to get that extra yard other running backs couldn’t.
“The thing I saw in him [was] his ability after contact,” Anderson said. “Sometimes you get caught up on watching running backs and you just watch their big runs. … [You shouldn’t] get caught up in the big runs on the highlight videos; go back and watch the game video, and see when he’s averaging four yards a carry, five yards a carry.”
Brooks’ 10 carries are his only of the season so far, but offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said you wouldn’t know that by watching him play.
“If you didn’t know that he was a true freshman, you wouldn’t know that he was a true freshman,” Limegrover said. “He went in there and he got the job done, and he wasn’t any different at the end of that ballgame in the locker room as he was last Tuesday.”
Smith and Brooks are both competing for rushing attempts, but it doesn’t mean they are rooting against each other.
“At the end of the day, [I want] whatever’s best for the team, and as long as we’re winning, I’m happy,” Smith said.
Replacing last year’s primary running back David Cobb was not going to be an easy task for the Gophers, but it seems they have rediscovered their running game with these two freshmen.
“I think that everybody got a good peek at what’s good for the future,” Kill said. “They’re both freshmen, so good things ahead there.”