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  1. #1

    Default How could the Gophers use all of their running backs in 2019?

    This season, the Gophers will have a very unique situation at the running back position. Minnesota’s roster will feature three different running backs who have led the team in rushing at least once since 2015. The season-ending injuries suffered by veteran running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, gave young players like Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams an opportunity to gain valuable experience. As freshmen, Ibrahim and Williams combined for 1,662 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Now, Minnesota will feature a backfield loaded with talent during the 2019 season. After recovering from injuries, seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks will return to the field for one last stint in the maroon and gold.

    It means the Gophers will have some serious star power in the backfield next season. Between the four running backs, they will return 1,328 career carries, 6,503 yards and 52 touchdowns. If you factor in wildcat quarterback Seth Green into the mix, 282 yards and eight touchdowns are added to the above output. It’s safe to say the Gophers will have a dynamic running game to pair with a passing attack that took a major leap last season.

    Another year of development for Ibrahim leaves many wondering how the Gophers will divide carries next season. Ibrahim rushed for the second-most yards ever for a Gophers freshman, including nine touchdowns and a whopping 5.74 yards per carry average. He became the first Gophers’ freshman since Laurence Maroney to accumulate five 100-yard games in a single season. He also rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns in the Quick Lane Bowl. His punishing running style, balance and ability to accumulate yards after contact, separate him from many other rushers.

    It’s going to be hard for Minnesota to keep him off the field this season, even with Smith and Brooks returning. The good news: each of these running backs have a different skill set. Rodney Smith has a versatile rushing style and is one of the more elusive and agile backs in the Big Ten. The Gophers can find ways to flex him all over the field, including into the slot for receptions. Shannon Brooks has the short range quickness, agility and physicality to pop off highlight reels runs. In last year's win vs. Indiana, everyone saw the offense click at another level with him in the backfield. Finally, Mohamed Ibrahim’s toughness and physicality adds another element to a backfield filled with diversity and dynamic weapons. Not only that, but the offensive line returns three key players and inserts top recruit Curtis Dunlap Jr. into the unit permanently.

    When the inside zone running game is firing on all cylinders, the Gophers’ offense is tough to stop because they have tough matchups on the outside. Teams face a tough predicament. Do you play two deep safeties to take away the intermediate and vertical passing game, or stack the box to prevent big running plays? You saw this in the bowl game against Georgia Tech as the wide receivers did an excellent job of physically blocking the perimeter and popping safeties in the second level.

    So how do the coaches get all of these running backs involved? There’s a few things to consider. First, it starts with a simple division of carries. If they can develop a rotation to keep legs fresh throughout the game, defenses will have a tough time finding an answer. With the run-pass option (RPO) game and the physicality of Minnesota’s zone running game, the Gophers can play chess with defenses. During 13 games last season, Minnesota averaged 40 carries per game. Those could be split between three running backs, but you have to factor Seth Green into the equation, too. Perhaps he becomes a more permanent mismatch wide receiver, but the Wildcat package added a nice wrinkle to the offense. Teams aren’t often setting a specific amount of carries they’d like a player to receive. They are looking at the flow of the game and matchups. One week, the elusiveness and ability to get Rodney Smith in space via the outside zone game, might exploit a weakness. The next game, the physicality of Mohamed Ibrahim may expose a team that struggles to tackle fundamentally sound.

    Ibrahim also feels like the perfect running back to insert in the fourth quarter when teams are starting to get tired and tackling fundamentals waver. The Gophers can use a dash of each running back and occasionally utilize the perimeter rushing skills of Bryce Williams, too. When depth is prominent at the running back position, coaches will find a way to use the talent they have. They can move all of these players across the field to create mismatches or use motion to get the defenses’ eyes wandering.

    There also is a personnel grouping the team could implement to get all three of them on the field at the same time. In 2010, current Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen was Mike Gundy’s offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. The team featured heavy depth at the running back position, so they implemented the diamond formation. It involves using three running backs in the backfield and expands off of the basic pistol formation. They've continued to use this under Gundy's leadership, even deploying it last year:

    via GIPHY



    There are a few different ways a team can create some havoc out of this formation. First, the amount of misdirection can confuse defenses and allows for screens, reverses, pre-snap motion and so much more. Oklahoma heavily used this formation under Bob Stoops, as well:




    There are also ways to add to this formation, especially if you have dynamic spark plug players at the wide receiver spot. Essentially, there are ways coaches can spice up the basic principles of the "diamond." They can motion a wide receiver into the set and be a part of everything, too:

    via GIPHY



    Although the best way to run this set is with at least one fullback, there are instances where three pure running backs have been successful. This is especially the case when you look at the skill set diversity of Minnesota’s personnel at the position. It also can be run from a variety of blocking schemes (zone or gap) to account for the specific talent you have on the roster. There are opportunities to use jet sweeps, traditional zone-read style looks or options within this set. The blocking schemes can be complicated and require a coaching staff with creative minds. I highly recommend reading this book to learn the basic principles and possibilities within this set. In terms of throwing on the outside, if you have a dynamic wide receiver on the outside, such as Rashod Bateman or Tyler Johnson, this formation creates 1-on-1 matchups on the perimeter. It involves longer developing routes, but can be effective when trying to run play-action out of this formation.

    Minnesota could possibly find a way to use this set, especially in short yardage or goal line situations. Many recall how North Carolina used quarterback Marquise Williams in the diamond formation. Perhaps the Gophers could implement this type of package in short yardage situations or on the goal line. Quarterback Seth Green fits the mold of this formation and teams would be forced to handle a plethora of options inside the red zone. In this situation, the Gophers could use Green, Smith, Brooks and Ibrahim all at once. There are subtle tweaks you can add to this formation to make it really deadly. It shouldn't be used much from 20-yard-line to 20-yard-line, but this example from North Carolina and Marquise Williams illustrates the power of read-option style looks within this formation. In this instance, they use a tight end to help, but that's certainly something Minnesota implement by using just two running backs instead.

    via GIPHY



    The Gophers could also have Shannon Brooks or Rodney Smith on the field with Ko Kieft in an H-Back role if they need more blocking help. That's my only question regarding the ability of Minnesota to use the trio of running backs together. However, with so many option wrinkles to run out of this and the physicality of those backs, it feels like aspects of this formation may work. As you can see, when analyzing Oklahoma's approach, there is room for creativity. Other teams like the Carolina Panthers have also used modified versions of this formation in the past.

    Overall, there is a situation where the Gophers could potentially have Ibrahim, Brooks and Smith on the field together to cause extreme deception. I’m not saying this is something Minnesota should run frequently, but it’s a package they could install to add some diversity to the scheme, while taking advantage of a loaded running back room. Keeping things basic might be best, but it’s something worth considering.

    One could argue when factoring in the wide receivers, this is the best depth Minnesota has featured at the skill positions in recent memory. When considering this, it leaves the coaches with room for creativity this offseason.
    Last edited by DanielHouse; 01-30-2019 at 11:59 AM.


  2. #2

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    Two things I know for sure:
    a) Brooks was electric in the Indiana game, before he hurt himself (again), he made our offense GO
    b) Ibrahim was invaluable to this offense in most of our wins

    And we all know R Smith was great, and hopefully can be that great again.

    I think you have to find ways to get all three carries, if they're all healthy. Let B Williams take a redshirt, we'll need him very much in the future.

  3. #3

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    At the risk of being perceived as too negative, odds are that at least one of the returning guys won’t be the same as before, or will suffer a setback. I hope they’re all healthy, but not expecting it. That’s why you recruit 1-2 backs every year. People are going to go down. Next man up.

  4. #4

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    Injuries are so common at the RB position that for most games you can probably assume one or more of the guys won't be available for one reason or another.

    Having this amount of depth though is a great thing to have because it means even if one quality option is out there is a very good chance you have someone just as good or better ready to carry the load that game.

    2003 provides a good way having this much talent in the backfield can work.

    RUSHING GP Att Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/G
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Barber III, M. 13 207 1239 43 1196 5.8 17 45 92.0
    Maroney, L. 13 162 1139 18 1121 6.9 10 47 86.2
    Tapeh, Thomas 13 119 576 6 570 4.8 11 35 43.8
    Abdul-Khaliq, A 13 88 447 77 370 4.2 4 52 28.5
    Jackson II, T. 12 55 279 23 256 4.7 1 34 21.3

    https://gophersports.com/documents/2..._stats_03.html

    If all the backs are healthy all year it will be a great "problem" for the coaches to solve and could be a ton of fun to watch. Especially when you factor in a passing game with weapons like Johnson and Bateman in it to keep defenses honest. It all plays into why so many of us are really excited by the prospects of the offense this fall.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenboy View Post
    At the risk of being perceived as too negative, odds are that at least one of the returning guys won’t be the same as before, or will suffer a setback. I hope they’re all healthy, but not expecting it. That’s why you recruit 1-2 backs every year. People are going to go down. Next man up.
    PJ says you can't have too many RBs!

  6. #6
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    Default

    Diamond formation has been used in NDSU offenses for years. Wonder if herd wants to chime in.
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenboy View Post
    At the risk of being perceived as too negative, odds are that at least one of the returning guys won’t be the same as before, or will suffer a setback. I hope they’re all healthy, but not expecting it. That’s why you recruit 1-2 backs every year. People are going to go down. Next man up.
    I agree with this fine poster.
    "Do Not Be Afraid to Be A Legend"

  8. #8

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    For using multiple backs, there's always the "Four Horseman from Notre Dame".
    https://und.com/sports/2018/8/7/trad...l.aspx?id=2038

  9. #9

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    I do not believe we will or should bring all of the defenders into the box and then try to run it.
    Part of the reason we were successful is with the exception of wildcat, spread it out. If they put numbers in the box, we throw. If they try to stop the pass, we run.

    This is why these backs have been effective.


    We shouldn’t put 3 backs in the backfield and then run it into a 9 man box

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by MNVCGUY View Post
    Injuries are so common at the RB position that for most games you can probably assume one or more of the guys won't be available for one reason or another.

    Having this amount of depth though is a great thing to have because it means even if one quality option is out there is a very good chance you have someone just as good or better ready to carry the load that game.

    2003 provides a good way having this much talent in the backfield can work.

    RUSHING GP Att Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/G
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Barber III, M. 13 207 1239 43 1196 5.8 17 45 92.0
    Maroney, L. 13 162 1139 18 1121 6.9 10 47 86.2
    Tapeh, Thomas 13 119 576 6 570 4.8 11 35 43.8
    Abdul-Khaliq, A 13 88 447 77 370 4.2 4 52 28.5
    Jackson II, T. 12 55 279 23 256 4.7 1 34 21.3

    https://gophersports.com/documents/2..._stats_03.html

    If all the backs are healthy all year it will be a great "problem" for the coaches to solve and could be a ton of fun to watch. Especially when you factor in a passing game with weapons like Johnson and Bateman in it to keep defenses honest. It all plays into why so many of us are really excited by the prospects of the offense this fall.
    Man was that group fun to watch...

  11. #11

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by MNVCGUY View Post
    Injuries are so common at the RB position that for most games you can probably assume one or more of the guys won't be available for one reason or another.

    Having this amount of depth though is a great thing to have because it means even if one quality option is out there is a very good chance you have someone just as good or better ready to carry the load that game.

    2003 provides a good way having this much talent in the backfield can work.

    RUSHING GP Att Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/G
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Barber III, M. 13 207 1239 43 1196 5.8 17 45 92.0
    Maroney, L. 13 162 1139 18 1121 6.9 10 47 86.2
    Tapeh, Thomas 13 119 576 6 570 4.8 11 35 43.8
    Abdul-Khaliq, A 13 88 447 77 370 4.2 4 52 28.5
    Jackson II, T. 12 55 279 23 256 4.7 1 34 21.3

    https://gophersports.com/documents/2..._stats_03.html

    If all the backs are healthy all year it will be a great "problem" for the coaches to solve and could be a ton of fun to watch. Especially when you factor in a passing game with weapons like Johnson and Bateman in it to keep defenses honest. It all plays into why so many of us are really excited by the prospects of the offense this fall.
    I immediately thought of 2003 as well, with Barber, Maroney and Tapeh. Having that kind of depth again can really get an offense going.
    You guys are playing like this is some throw away game up in Rochester.

  12. #12

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    At running back: Rodney, Brooks, Ibrahim, Williams

    At wide receiver: Johnson, Bateman, Autman-Bell, Douglas

    Two QBs who saw extensive playing time last year + our wildcat, Green

    All protected by a big, strong offensive line

  13. #13

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    I'll add the fresh legs approach. Run Fleck's RPO to its fullest and just rotate the guys, staying with the hot one now and again. Would love to have them fresh and ready for that four game stretch to finish out the season.

  14. #14

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    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will the Gophers throw in more wrinkles to utilize what talent they have? Can Brooks and Smith stay healthy. Admittedly I'm more worried about Brooks than I am of Smith only due to the fact that he was injured quickly after he came back. Hopefully I'm dead wrong about that. If all these guys stay healthy we should have a good year.

  15. #15
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by PMWinSTP View Post
    I'll add the fresh legs approach. Run Fleck's RPO to its fullest and just rotate the guys, staying with the hot one now and again. Would love to have them fresh and ready for that four game stretch to finish out the season.
    You just use three or four RBs during the game as a single, dual, or triple threat RPO with Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks catching a pass or use one of them for blocking.

    Then in the second half, use Ibrahim or in rotation to ground and pound with passing threat always an option. I'd like to see the TE used occasionally to catch a pass when they are least expected to do so.

    We can never have enough WRs and RBs.
    Welcome to Badger Road Kill Country!

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