The Gophers have had four different running backs rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season. Once again Saturday, they’ll need that depth.
Coach P.J. Fleck on Tuesday said senior running back Shannon Brooks likely won’t play at Illinois because of a right knee injury suffered in Friday’s 38-31 victory over Indiana. In addition, Fleck said redshirt freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who missed the Indiana game because of an undisclosed injury, is expected to return. Ibrahim practiced Tuesday, Brooks didn’t.
Fleck didn’t provide specifics about Brooks’ right knee injury, which happened when he made a cut in the fourth quarter, in a game in which he rushed 22 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. Fleck didn’t say when Brooks would be back.
“I pretty much know that he probably won’t play this week,” Fleck said, “but we’ll get Mohamed back, which is really big for us.”
Fleck added that he spoke with Brooks and senior running back Rodney Smith, who was lost for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Sept. 8 vs. Fresno State, in his office Tuesday morning.
“Just talking about life … just about how they’re doing, how they’re doing mentally,” he said.
Brooks’ injury is not to the same knee that he injured shortly before spring practice. He tore the ACL in his left knee that time and was expected to miss the entire season. But a new NCAA rule that allows players to participate in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility opened the door for Brooks to return once he was medically cleared. Fleck’s plan was to play Brooks in just four games and have him retain a year of eligibility for 2019.
Brooks was medically cleared before the Oct. 20 Nebraska game, but Fleck and athletic director Mark Coyle suspended him for that game because of his role in an Oct. 14 incident in which he allegedly assaulted a roommate. Brooks was arrested but no charges have been filed; the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office continues to investigate the incident.
Ibrahim, the team’s leading rusher with 464 yards on 89 carries, started the first four Big Ten games before missing the Indiana game. True freshman Bryce Williams started against Indiana before Brooks took over after the Gophers’ first offensive series. Williams is listed as a co-starter with Ibrahim on the depth chart released Tuesday.
On the mend
• True freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad, who hasn’t played since the first half against Nebraska because of an internal midsection injury, practiced Tuesday and is expected to be the backup to Tanner Morgan on Saturday. Annexstad also has been limited by an ankle injury. Fleck said it was “a possibility down the stretch” that both quarterbacks would play.
• Wide receiver Tyler Johnson practiced Tuesday and is in line to play, Fleck said on KFXN-FM. He has a lower leg injury that has been bothering him all season and tightened against Indiana. He missed most of the second half.