Rodney Smith and Mo Ibrahim Both ‘The Guy’ Thursday

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Entering 2018, the Minnesota Gophers were ready to put their offense on Rodney Smith’s shoulders and ride the workhorse back to as many victories as possible before he ran into the NFL like some of the legendary Gopher running backs before him… but that’s not the way the year ended up. In fact, it ended just 1+ games after it got started.

Smith rushed for 156 yards on 24 carries vs. New Mexico State in the season opener before getting only 2 carries the next week vs Fresno State, before blowing out his knee… Another knee injury vs. Indiana would end Shannon Brooks’ 2019 too. PJ Fleck, Kirk Ciarrocca, and Co. had no choice but to turn to Mohamed Ibrahim, a redshirt Freshman, who wasn’t supposed to see much of the field at all in 2018, let alone be thrust into a starting spot.

Gopher fans weren’t sure what to think at that point… RB was supposed to be the most secure position on the offense… but after finding his footing and working through some of his own minor injuries, Mohamed Ibrahim proved RB was still a position of strength, even with an offensive line that had plenty of its own consistency issues.  Mo finished the season with 1160 yards and 9 TD’s in just 10 games played.

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So with a healthy Rodney Smith now back in play after a 2018 medical redshirt cleared one more season for him, I asked PJ Fleck on Sunday afternoon, what we can expect the backfield split to look like vs SDSU and here’s what PJ said: “I think Rodney and Mohamad will take the majority of the carries early, and then we’ll see how it goes from there.”

My own expert opinion on who will start vs the Jackrabbits? I am yet to attend a practice where Mohamed Ibrahim doesn’t take first snaps with the 1’s. With just a few days left to change my mind, I’d be a bit surprised to see #1 trot onto the field before #24, on Thursday.

But no matter who starts the game, it’s clear that Mo and Rodney are RB1 and RB1A. PJ wants to rotate as many backs in as each game calls for, though and won’t hesitate to stretch the depth in his backfield. He’s hoping the game Thursday vs the Jackrabbits calls for a lot of different running backs seeing carries. “We do have the ability to play Bryce [Williams] in situations that make him really, really good, and then we kind of go from there. You’ve got Trey Potts ready. You’ve got Cam Wiley ready… I’m not afraid to put them in the game. You might see them in the first quarter, depending on how the game is going and what we are having success with.”

In other words, whoever has success is going to see the ball and hopefully we are having enough success that we are rotating guys in, to stay fresh. When you’re facing an FCS team, even one as good as SDSU, you are hoping to outmuscle up front and move the ball consistently on the ground.

With an improving offensive line and a bevy of running back talent, the Gophers should be able to grind the ball consistently all season… as long as the backfield can stay healthy, which as we found out last season, is far from a guarantee.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

Here is PJ’s full press conference from yesterday (I ask about the RB split at the 05:05 mark)

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