Golden Gophers Moving Forward Without Rodney Smith

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Golden Gophers Moving Forward
Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers with the trainers checks on Rodney Smith #1 after an injury during the first quarter of the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs on September 8, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

It’s the worst-case scenario come true for Minnesota as running back Rodney Smith is done for the season. Smith, one of just three seniors on the Gopher offense, was injured on his second carry against Fresno State. Fellow senior Shannon Brooks suffering a season-ending injury in the early spring means the Gophers are perilously thin in the backfield. Junior Jonathan Femi-Cole has been used very sparingly to date, and the other options are freshmen. Mohamed Ibrahim was expected to be Smith’s backup, but he was injured against New Mexico State and didn’t play against Fresno State. (Ibrahim did take warmup against the Bulldogs, so he’ll likely be back soon). It will be baptism by fire for whoever sees the bulk of the carries for the Golden Gophers moving forward.

Silver Lining

While it’s a bit harder (though not impossible) to see the Gophers making a bowl game this season, the hardship could pay dividends in 2019. For starters, the young running backs will have more carries under their belts than expected. If the team leans on the passing game more this year, that will mean a more experienced crop of receivers and a more seasoned quarterback. In addition, Smith plans to apply for a sixth year of eligibility. Head coach P.J. Fleck indicated to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he expects the NCAA will grant it. That, plus Brooks’ return, gives Minnesota one of the deepest running back groups in the Big Ten. The only drawback to the “wait till next year” plan is that the defense will be losing some very skilled seniors.

What About A Bowl Game?

It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. It’s safer, obviously, to be 7-5 than 6-6. After a 2-0 start, are there five more winnable games on the schedule? I think so. After Miami of Ohio this weekend, I see Maryland (September 22 on the road), Indiana (October 26 at home), Illinois (November 3 on the road) and Purdue (November 10 at home) as games the Gophers could win. That would give the team a 7-5 record and almost certainly a bowl game. Dropping one of those games and finishing 6-6 wouldn’t be ideal, but there would still be a chance. Maybe they’ll pull an upset along the way too. Don’t start counting the days until hockey season quite yet.

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