Minnesota, winning its first two games with quality play from true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad, has been an early surprise team in the Big Ten West.
But the Gophers were dealt a major blow when senior running back Rodney Smith was declared out for the season with a left knee injury suffered in their 21-14 win over Fresno State.
“I am devastated for Rodney, but I know he will keep his oar in the water and continue to move forward and attack his rehabilitation process,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said.
“He’s a leader on this team, and I look forward to him working with our young players as we continue to grow this season.”
The loss of Smith might temper the Gophers’ lofty goals for the rest of the season.
Fleck said Smith might file for a medical redshirt waiver for a sixth year of eligibility. Smith was named the Gophers’ MVP in each of the last two seasons. He has rushed for 2,962 career rushing yards and 451 receiving yards.
He finished with 189 all-purpose yards in the season-opening win over New Mexico State, while tallying 34 total yards against Fresno State.
With Smith sidelined for the rest of the season, plus injuries to senior Shannon Brooks and redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahm, the Gophers must rely on true freshman Bryce Williams for Saturday’s home game against Miami of Ohio.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder had a strong effort when Smith went down last week, rushing for 62 yards on 21 carries. He had rushes of 9, 3, 11 and 2 yards to set up Minnesota’s go-ahead touchdown against Fresno State.
“Bryce Williams, as the game went on, got better and better and better,” Fleck said.
At this point, Ibrahim is out with a left leg injury suffered late in the opener. He did not play against Fresno State but dressed for the game. Brooks might be an option after suffering a torn ACL before spring practice. Due to NCAA rule changes regarding redshirts, a player can participate in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
–QB Zack Annexstad, in two games, has completed 32 of 59 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns for a completion percentage of 54.2 percent.
–WR Tyler Johnson is raising eyebrows with his big-play ability. Last year, he caught 35 passes for 677 yards and seven touchdowns. Through two games this season, he has 11 receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
–S Antoine Winfield Jr. had a game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter against Fresno State. After missing all but four games last season, Winfield is making a big impact for the Gophers.