The Gophers played Saturday’s 44-31 victory over Purdue without second-leading rusher Shannon Brooks, who was injured and in street clothes for the game.
Coach Tracy Claeys didn’t specify what the injury was but said the team knew on Thursday that Brooks wasn’t “up to full speed.” Claeys told KFAN (100.3-FM) that Brooks probably could have played, but the Gophers were cautious. Brooks missed the season’s first two games with a broken foot. After returning, he scored one touchdown in all six of his games, with 93 carries for 472 yards (an average of 5.1 yards per carry).
Without him, the Gophers gave most of the rushing workload to Rodney Smith, who had 24 carries for 153 yards and three touchdowns. Smith twisted his right ankle during the fourth quarter but stayed in the game.
Smith was smiling afterward, saying the injury spooked him more than anything.
“I just was nervous,” he said. “I kind of panicked. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but as a running back — I hurt my ankle last year — so I was kind of nervous about it. That’s why I kind of hobbled off the field. Once I settled down, it wasn’t that bad.”
The Gophers also gave Kobe McCrary five carries for 8 yards. Claeys said the biggest adjustment without Brooks was giving more carries to quarterback Mitch Leidner, who had 14 rushes for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
Targeting on Rallis
Gophers linebacker Nick Rallis forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter, which helped seal the victory. But the next time Purdue got the ball, Rallis went to tackle Gregory Phillips and was ejected for targeting.
Rallis clearly tried to lower his head as he made the hit, but his helmet caught part of Phillips’ helmet.
It marked the Gophers’ sixth targeting penalty of the season. Rallis won’t be able to play in the first half of next week’s game at Nebraska.
Asked if the Big Ten could review the play again and overturn the call before the Nebraska game, Claeys said: “I don’t know. … I would add more but Christmas is coming up, and I would much rather use my money on Christmas presents than send it to the Big Ten.”
Pressed for a response, Claeys said: “You’re getting close to egging me into it. I’m not going to swallow it, but I agree with you. It’s tough. It is tough. I wouldn’t know what to tell the kids [to avoid targeting]. And for how late the flag was thrown also, it was just crazy.”
Without Rallis, the Gophers’ linebacker depth will be tested at Nebraska. Cody Poock left Saturday’s game after reinjuring his right shoulder.
Gophers senior Jonah Pirsig returned after missing three games with a sprained ankle injury. With Pirsig back at right tackle, Garrison Wright moved to right guard, with Donnell Greene staying at left tackle.
But Wright suffered a right shoulder injury in the first quarter. The Gophers replaced him with Connor Mayes at first, but the line was ineffective, so Vincent Calhoun took over at right guard for the rest of the game.
The Gophers could not have dialed up better November weather for their second-to-last home game of the season.
The announced attendance was 42,832, giving the Gophers a season average of 44,756 at 50,805-seat TCF Bank Stadium.
Last year, the Gophers played to near-capacity crowds every game; several were against marquee foes.
This year has been a struggle. The Gophers opened with a Thursday prime-time game against Oregon State and drew an announced 44,582. The next four home games all started at 11 a.m., against Indiana State (41,026), Colorado State (44,854), Iowa (49,145) and Rutgers (46,096).
The Purdue game started at 2:30 p.m.