Gophers freshmen Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith have combined to rush for 1,240 yards this season, and that total could be higher if Smith hadn’t sprained his right ankle early in the ninth game, at Ohio State.
Smith had just 55 combined yards in the final four games of the regular season, giving him a total of 541. But his ankle continues to feel better, as the Gophers prepare to face Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 28.
“Any time a running back has an ankle injury, it’ll set you back quite a bit,” Smith said Saturday. “But I’ve been working to get back. I would say I’m about 90-95 percent. Some cuts are still a little tough for me, but overall, I feel like I’m getting back into a groove.”
Brooks has earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors three times and leads the team with 644 rushing yards. These Georgia running backs feel like they’re just scratching the surface for what’s possible in coming years.
“We’ve got to look up the rushing record for the Quick Lane Bowl; that’s our first goal, to break that,” Smith said. “And for next year, our goal is to run for 1,000 apiece. I feel like we can do it, and there’s no excuses.
“I just feel like we’re a good one-two punch. We like to look at ourselves as [former USC running backs] Reggie Bush and LenDale White. He’s LenDale because he likes to run over people. I haven’t really shown it, but I have a little Reggie in me. I show it sometimes in practice.”
Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush ranks 11th in the nation with 308.6 passing yards per game and 12th with a 67.2 completion percentage.
“He’s an accurate thrower; he throws a catchable ball,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. “But the thing is, five receivers have over 500 yards receiving. They spread the ball around so much, and they’re balanced on both sides, so it’s hard to say you’re going to take somebody away.”
Jesse Kroll leads the Chippewas with 856 yards receiving, and Anthony Rice, Ben McCord, Mark Chapman, Corey Willis each has at least 500.
“Most teams, you can get them down to a couple receivers and make them go to their third, fourth option,” Claeys said. “Well, their third and fourth options are pretty good guys. That’s why they’ve been so successful this year.”
Mortell plays Santa
Senior punter Peter Mortell used his $452 gift card from Best Buy last year to buy Christmas gifts for patients at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. This year, Mortell set a goal of raising $10,000 for teenage patients who are spending the holiday at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Twelve hours later, Mortell met that goal.
So he raised the bar again, hoping to raise $25,000, while working to find a corporation that will match the total. As of Saturday, Mortell had raised more than $16,300.
“I’m speechless, I really am,” Mortell said. “To set a $10,000 goal for a fundraiser and catch that in 12 hours says a lot about this community. I’m proud to be a part of it. … And the scary thing is, I don’t think we’re even close to being done.”