The Gophers have a great shot to move to 2-2 in the Big Ten and 5-2 overall when they face Rutgers at home on Saturday as 17 ½-point favorites.

The Gophers are a total of 5 minutes, 30 seconds from being undefeated, because Penn State sent them to a loss in overtime by kicking a field goal with two seconds to play in regulation and Iowa scored the winning touchdown with 5:28 to go on a 54-yard run.

And while those losses were difficult, one of the big bright spots for the Gophers this season has been the play of redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith.

He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 590 and is tied for third in rushing touchdowns with seven. He notched the longest run of his career last week in the 31-10 victory over Maryland with a 70-yarder up the middle that showcased his excellent vision and then his great speed.

Smith talked earlier this season about how he views his running style.

"I try not to be one-dimensional," he said. "I try to run physical but at the same time make people miss. I try to pattern my game after [former Texans star and current Dolphin] Arian Foster, I liked watching [Hall of Fame running back] Marshall Faulk, those guys do a little bit of both; they run hard between the tackles, but when they do get out on the edge they can make people miss."

The Gophers once again have a great running back tandem of Smith and fellow Georgia native Shannon Brooks, a sophomore who has 326 rushing yards and three touchdowns even though he missed the first two games of the season recovering from a broken foot.

Smith said he was one of the players who helped recruit Brooks to the Gophers.

"I know Shannon; we worked on Shannon," Smith said. "He came on his official visit, and I talked to him and tried to get him on board. That's where our friendship started."

Another great duo?

With both Smith and Brooks looking like potential 1,000-yard rushers, it will be interesting to see if they can match the great duo of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III.

Maroney and Barber each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in two consecutive seasons. The 2003 season saw Maroney, a freshman, gain 1,121 yards with 10 touchdowns, and Barber, a redshirt sophomore, rush for 1,196 yards and 17 scores. In 2004, Maroney rushed for 1,348 yards and 12 TDs while Barber had 1,269 yards and 11 TDs. Barber left for the NFL following that redshirt junior season.

And Maroney didn't just succeed with Barber as his backfield partner. In 2005, Maroney rushed for 1,464 yards and 10 TDs, while Gary Russell had 1,130 yards and 18 TDs.

Since then, no Gophers running back duo has come close to that level of rushing success, but Smith and Brooks have a shot. Most likely the two backs will have six regular-season games left and a bowl game.

So far this season Smith is averaging 98.3 yards per game, so if he plays in all 13 games that would put him over 1,200 yards on the season.

Brooks is averaging 81.5 yards per game, and he's on pace for 897 yards. He would need to increase his production to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

New coaches

The Gophers rank fifth in the Big Ten with 207.3 rushing yards per game, trailing Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland and Nebraska.

Smith was asked what he has seen from the offensive line under new coach Bart Miller.

"Those guys have gotten a lot better, bought into the process. I know they trust Coach Miller and what Coach [offensive coordinator] Jay [Johnson] is doing," he said. "They have gotten a lot stronger and the mentality has changed, I believe, on the offensive line, when we're running those big guys."

Smith sees some differences in Johnson's offense compared with that of former offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover.

"I think the play-calling is different," he said. "The schemes aren't too different. The biggest thing with us was just the play-calling in different situations, and the mentality of the offensive line helps a lot when you know those guys up front can protect when you need to pass. And when you need to run the ball, those guys can create holes."

The Gophers should have had a real shot at starting Big Ten play 3-0, but instead they need Smith and Brooks to continue to carry the offense if they're going to have a shot at getting back in the Big Ten race.


• Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said at a news conference this week that he is not surprised by the great performance of Sam Bradford with the Vikings. "You are seeing the same concepts offensively with them that we did here,'' said Pederson, whose team is host to the Vikings on Sunday. "He's a sharp kid, a smart kid. He's a very accurate thrower, so I'm not surprised. He didn't go to a 1-15 team; he went to a playoff-caliber team with a tremendous defense."

• Despite the fact that the Eagles have lost their past two games to Detroit and Washington, the unbeaten Vikings are only 2 ½-point favorites and the over-under is 40 points, according to the Las Vegas books. The Eagles did beat the Browns, Bears and even the Steelers before having their Week 4 bye. ... In the Eagles' loss to Washington last week, former North Dakota State star Carson Wentz played all 52 offensive snaps despite being sacked five times and hit 11 times.

• The Eagles are 21st in the league in total offense with 338.8 yards per game while the Vikings are 30th at 302.6. The Eagles are eighth in rushing at 113.6 yards per game, while the Vikings rank last at 70.6. The Eagles are 26th in passing with 225.2 yards per game, while the Vikings are 24th with 232.0.

• An interesting statistic going into Sunday's game is that Mike Zimmer's squad has committed only one turnover while the Eagles have just two. … Vikings assistant coach Pat Shurmur will have a homecoming Sunday since he spent a total of 13 years with the Eagles and was their interim head coach before joining the Vikings. … Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen is a Minnetonka native and was named to the Associated Press all-state team in 2009.

• Rutgers, the Gophers' opponent on Saturday, is 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have been outscored 117-14 in Big Ten play and at one point went 11 quarters without scoring a touchdown. They were shut out 58-0 by Ohio State and 78-0 by Michigan and didn't score in the first three quarters of their 24-7 loss to 2-4 Illinois.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.