Expect More Emergency Running Backs to Surface for Gophers

Photo: Gopher Sports

What is a power five football program supposed to do when they lose four of the six running backs they had entering the season? Well, Minnesota Gophers fans are about to find out.

We learned on Monday during PJ Fleck’s morning press conference that the latest running back to hit the season-ending injured list is senior (SR) Bryce Williams, who went down with a lower body injury in the win @ Northwestern. Bryce joins the two RB’s already there, (SR) Mohamed Ibrahim and (JR) Trey Potts. Let’s not forget, running back (JR) Cam Wiley entered the transfer portal after the Nebraska win a couple of weeks ago.

  1. Mohamed Ibrahim (SR) | Out – Season
  2. Trey Potts (JR) | Out – Season
  3. Mar’Keise Irving (FR)
  4. Ky Thomas (FR)
  5. Bryce Williams (SR) | Out – Season
  6. Cam Wiley (JR) | Transfer Portal

That leaves the 4-star freshmen thunder/lightning combo of Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise “Bucko” Irving as the only scholarship college running backs on roster. They’re talented but were likely just RB4 and RB5 entering the season. Kids who were expected to carry major workloads a couple of years into the future. Instead, they’ll be asked to produce for a Big Ten West Title contender immediately.

Reinforcements in Training

That doesn’t mean those two will have to do it all themselves. Ky and Bucko might be the only players on roster with running back scholarships but that doesn’t mean they’re the only guys with running back experience. We saw linebacker, Derik LeCaptain, take one carry as a running back vs Northwestern and he housed it on an incredible fairytale 20-yard run (see video evidence at bottom of this blog).

It sounds like LeCaptain won’t be the only non-running back to get a shot at running back. PJ Fleck told media on Monday that he and his staff have dug into all of his players’ history, in search of a semi-competent contingency plan should anything else go awry in the 6-2 Minnesota Gophers backfield.

ELITE Offensive Line

One thing that all Minnesota Gopher running backs currently benefit from is a dominant offensive line, especially in the run game. According to PFF, there’s really no line better. And that’s with six or seven different running backs playing behind them.

Minnesota’s 87.8 rush block grade is the second highest in the nation and the only team ahead of them is the Louisianna Lafayette Ragin Cagins, a ‘group of five’ team. They’ve been absolutely destroying opposing defenders, opening huge running lanes for their running backs.

The Gophers have multiple NFL players on their offensive line. We could be talking in a few years, after guys move on, about just how crazy talented this O-line is. C John Michael Schmitz (89.3) and G Blaise Andries (86.9) both rank in the top-5 for their respective positions in PFF rush block grade. RT Daniel Faalele (81.3) is the o-lineman pro scouts are most interested in, however, given his 6’9″-ft, 380 lb frame that could tap dance circles around you.

Pray for health

No matter how good the Minnesota Gophers offensive line is or how many high school running backs they have on their roster, more injury issues could be devastating. This is an offense that goes based on its run game. If you don’t have any scholarship running backs available, it’ll get difficult to move the ball on the ground.

I trust that PJ Fleck and his staff will be as ready as possible but nobody can be ready for losing all of their running backs during the course of a season. But I’ll close this blog with a video of LeCaptain’s touchdown run because he deserves it.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan