When you think of the good Minnesota teams of the Glen Mason era you immediately think of the Golden Gopher running attack. More specifically when you think of that era you think of the multiple options the Gophers had in their running back stable.
The same can be said heading into the 2016 season, but nobody excites Gopher fans more than the expected headliner out of Georgia, sophomore tailback Shannon Brooks.
Brooks took his time to make a name for himself during his rookie season of 2015, not seeing the field in the season opener against TCU, and then only playing on special teams against Colorado State and Kent State.
When he was finally allowed to touch the ball in the nonconference finale against Ohio, he made the Gopher staff take notice. Brooks took advantage of the 10 carries he was given to rush for 82 yards and two scores (40 and 3). More importantly, when the game was on the line in the final minute, it was Brooks who got the call to finish off the pesky Bobcats. Trailing 24-20 with 30 seconds left the true freshman went in from three yards out to put the Gophers ahead for good.
While Brooks did have his Big Ten moments, he will need to work on his consistency. In games against Purdue (17-176-1), Illinois (17-174-3) and Iowa (14-86-1) he was a significant weapon and helped lead the Gophers to two conference wins and a highly entertaining loss in Iowa City. In those three games Brooks carried the ball 48 times for 436 yards, an impressive 9.1 yards per carry, and scored five times. He even managed to throw one pass in the Iowa game, completing it for a 42-yard touchdown.
Success wasn’t so easy in the other five conference games. Northwestern shut Brooks down and only allowed 10 carries for 33 yards. Nebraska limited Brooks to 8 carries for 25 yards. Michigan stopped Brooks for 12 carries and 33 yards. At Ohio State it was 11 carries and 27 yards. Finally in the Axe game at TCF Bank Stadium it was 5 carries and 8 yards. In all during those five games Brooks carried the ball 46 times for 126 yards, only averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and scored 0 times.
For the Gopher ground game to succeed in 2016 it will be important that Brooks is able to contribute more like he did in the Purdue, Illinois and Iowa games, but more importantly eliminate getting shut down as he did in the other five Big Ten games.
Much of Brooks inconsistency in 2015 has to be credited to the inconsistency of the offensive line. A healthy and more stable offensive line in 2016 will obviously equate to a more consistent rushing attack in 2016 and Brooks’ numbers should resemble his spectacular performances and flashes of brilliance last year.
I am putting Brooks on a 1,500+ yard season in 2016. Brooks will hit the 1,000 yard mark rushing (1136) and also contribute in the passing game (387).
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