Darius Taylor, the Gophers true freshman running back who's among the nation's top rushers, missed Saturday's game against Louisiana because of a leg injury. That prompted coach P.J. Fleck to use a committee approach in the backfield against the Ragin' Cajuns.
That spread-the-carries strategy worked wonders as the Gophers rushed 51 times for 201 yards in a 35-24 victory.
Senior Bryce Williams started the game, but the biggest development was the emergence of redshirt freshman Zach Evans. A highly touted recruit out of Heath, Texas, two years ago, Evans hadn't carried the ball during the Gophers' first four games. Saturday, though, he led the team by rushing 15 times for 85 yards and a touchdown, showing power and shiftiness along the way.
Williams played a key role, too, carrying the ball 15 times for 53 yards and a TD. During the fourth quarter, he rushed 10 times for 39 yards and the score that put the Gophers up 28-17.
Senior Sean Tyler got in the act, too, rushing 10 times for 47 yards, while quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis had 10 carries for 17 yards and a TD.
"Are you ready when your opportunity comes? And what do you do with it? Because if you're not ready and it comes, you probably won't get any more opportunities,'' Fleck said of the competition among the backs. "And I thought a guy like Zach Evans took huge advantage of that today. … Bryce ran hard today, and Sean did well today.''
Filling in for Taylor was a big job. The Detroit native entered Saturday with an average of 133 rushing yards per game, which trailed only Appalachian State's Nate Noel (135.5) among FBS rushers. With a total of 532 rushing yards, Taylor ranked third nationally.
In last week's overtime loss at Northwestern, Taylor rushed 31 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He was injured late in the fourth quarter and grabbed the back of his left leg near the knee after being tackled.
After the game, Fleck said Taylor did not practice during the week leading up to the Louisiana game.
"He's working really hard to get back," Fleck said.
Gophers wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell (knee) did not play. Linebacker Cody Lindenberg, a starter who has yet to play this season because of a leg injury, was listed as questionable but did not dress for the game.
Brockington injures leg
Wide receiver Le'Meke Brockington suffered a left leg injury the second quarter Saturday and remained on the field for a few minutes. Medical personnel put his leg in an immobilizing brace and took him off the field by cart. He did not return to the game, and Fleck did not have an update.
Fellow wideout Daniel Jackson caught a 37-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-2 play that Brockington usually runs. "That was 'Meke's touchdown, truly," Jackson said. "I ran that play for 'Meke."