Barber and Maroney take backseats during recent skid

Losers of four of five, the Gophers’ losses have been highlighted by a lack of rushing.

Dan Miller

Along with the rest of Minnesota’s football team, the last five weeks have been especially hard on Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III.

After being hailed as one of the – if not the – best running back duos in the nation, the two have almost completely dropped off the radar in the last couple games.

The Gophers (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) have shied away from the run and mostly passed the ball because of a combination of opponents totally focusing on their run game and the fact that Minnesota’s fallen behind in four of its last five games.

But many people are still asking, “Where have those guys been?”

“We’re still here,” Maroney said. “Most people are saying ‘Why aren’t Maroney and Barber producing?’ But there’s not much we can do when there are nine men in the box. Everybody should know that.”

Maroney, who was ranked in the top 10 runners in the nation for most of the season, had a 134-yard average in his first five games but just 83.4 yards in his last five.

Barber averaged 120.4 yards and had seven touchdowns in his first five games. Since then, in the last five games, he has averaged 62.6 yards and has only three touchdowns.

He remains 85 yards short of 1,000. If he reaches that plateau, he and Maroney would be the first duo in history to both go over that mark in consecutive seasons.

But that won’t erase the fact that they’ve been afterthoughts in the offense when the season mattered.

“Coach always said we should be able to run anyways,” Barber said. “But it’s all a numbers game. If they have more guys coming than you have to block, it’s going to be tough.”

From the running backs to the offensive linemen, the Gophers said they are feeling as though half of their potency has been taken away by not running the football.

The Gophers had a lot of success early in the season getting big plays in the running game.

Now, the strategy seems to be to throw long passes down the sideline, often to 6-foot-5-inch freshman receiver Ernie Wheelwright.

But with the ball being thrown to the receivers more and more each game, Gophers running backs are starting to feel frustration.

“I feel useless,” Maroney said. “I can go in there and have a good pass protection, but after that, I feel useless. There are only two pass plays where they use a running back, so I’m like, ‘Man, I’m trying to help the team out in every way possible.’ But if I’m not getting the carries, I’m useless.”

The Gophers ran the ball only 18 times against Wisconsin, with Barber getting seven carries and Maroney eight.

“That’s just the way things go sometimes,” offensive lineman Rian Melander said. “One day, they’ll get 45 carries and the next day, they won’t.”

There’s no doubt Maroney hopes Saturday’s game against Iowa is one of those first days.

“When they have nine guys up there, that’s one on one even with receivers,” Maroney said. “So maybe we have to spread them out and run.”