Even with last year's leading rusher, Shannon Brooks, recovering from a broken bone in his foot, the Gophers don't expect their running game to skip a beat Thursday against Oregon State.
If Brooks was option 1A, then Rodney Smith was 1B. A fellow sophomore, Smith had several strong performances last year. He had 16 carries for 88 yards (5.5 avg.) in the season opener against No. 2 TCU. He rushed for 108 yards against Colorado State and averaged 6.2 yards per carry against Michigan.
"I’m definitely prepared for a bigger role," Smith said. "Whatever the team asks of me, I feel like I’m capable of doing."
Smith said he's also confident in the other running backs. He said junior college transfer Kobe McCrary, in particular, needs to be ready, as Smith has been practicing with the punt and kickoff return units.
Brooks suffered his right foot injury three weeks ago. He had surgery to have a screw inserted into the bone and had to keep weight off his foot for two weeks. The original timetable for his return was three to five weeks. He'll be at the 4.5-week mark heading into Game 2, Sept. 10 against Indiana State.
The guess here is the Gophers will give Brooks extra time to heal, with an open date Sept. 17, and have him ready to go for Colorado State on Sept. 24.
For now, coach Tracy Claeys said the offensive game plan hasn't changed one bit because of Brooks' injury.
"Kobe’s done awfully well," Claeys said. "He rushed for a lot of yards [1,190 last year] at a junior college for a good program [Butler Community College]. He’s surprised just because of his pass protection stuff. He picked that up. I was worried about that since he wasn’t here in the spring. So now, I feel good about that. We still have enough fire power to play."