Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Rodrick Williams was atop the tailback depth chart for the Minnesota Golden Gophers going into the season opener against TCU, due in equal parts to his senior status and the fact he was the starter as recently as midway into the 2013 season. But a lackluster performance on Thursday night, most notably a momentum-killing fumble during the second quarter as the Gophers threatened to score, has given someone else an early opportunity to emerge.
Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith made an immediate difference against TCU, with four carries on 22 yards on Minnesota’s first scoring drive, which resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso. Smith added something that Williams seemed incapable of providing, with 58 rushing yards and a one-yard touchdown in the second half of the game on his way to 88 yards on 16 carries.
In reference to Smith, Gophers’ head coach Jerry Kill said “he’s going to be a really good player” after the game Thursday night. With Mitch Leidner’s shortcomings as a passer again on full display against TCU, the Gophers need someone to spark the offense and Smith should now get an opportunity to do just that.
Marcus Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press offered the following insight into how Smith’s collegiate debut measures up against recent Gophers’ history:
Colorado State is Minnesota’s next opponent, with a road game coming on Sept. 12. The Rams return eight starters from a defense that finished 96th in the country against the run last year, and they are making a defensive scheme switch under a new coaching staff.
Establishing the run, and limiting Leidner’s exposure as a passer, will be essential to win a road game in a tough environment next Saturday. Smith should take the lead role in that effort, and I would be shocked if he doesn’t see at least 20 carries in the game.
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