Duane Bennett needs 61 more rushing yards to make this his best season as a Gopher, and his 46.8-yard average in 2011 ranks third among Big Ten seniors.
"I'll miss Duane, that's for sure," coach Jerry Kill said.
Probably so, particularly because the Gophers have been unable to identify definitively Bennett's successor this season. Donnell Kirkwood has remained relatively healthy this year, but has received only 60 carries, averaged only 3.4 yards per carry and 20.5 per game, and remains a question mark as a lead tailback. David Cobb played three games before being injured, and while he showed promise, he's only carried the ball 10 times. Devon Wright didn't take part in spring ball, and is still learning his position, Kill said.
But if that seems like reason for Gopher fans to be alarmed, know this: The coach is practically serene about the future of that position.
"We're in good shape. I feel very good about where we at with running backs," Kill said. "Recruiting's going very well, but I can't talk about that. But we feel very good about the direction we're going" at the position.
The Gophers do have a couple of tailbacks committed for next year, according to Gopher Illustrated, a website that closely tracks recruiting. Rodrick Williams, a back from Lewisville, Texas, plans to attend Minnesota next year, according to the site, as does James Gillum, a Louisiana native who averages 93.1 yards per game for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss.
Bennett, by the way, suggests one more candidate: LaMonte Edwards, the Woodbury High grad who carried the ball eight times early in the season, then was moved to linebacker to address a shortage at the position. "I don't make the calls, but I would assume they would give him a viable chance," Bennett said of his redshirt-freshman teammate. "I think he really feels that is what his niche is."
The coaches, though, don't agree. Bennett's status, like that of all the Gophers, will be re-evaluated after the season, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said, "but I have no intention of giving him up."
Edwards is improving every week, Claeys said, and plays more instinctively as he becomes more comfortable with playing defense. "I wish he'd had the chance to go through spring ball with us, and fall camp," Claeys said. "But he's getting faster every week."