There are plenty of Big Ten teams wondering how they’ll replace a top running back, but perhaps none were as important to their team as David Cobb.
Wisconsin lost Melvin Gordon but has Corey Clement ready to take the baton. Nebraska lost Ameer Abdullah but has a proven quarterback-wideout tandem in Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp. Michigan State lost Jeremy Langford but has Connor Cook running what figures to be a dominant passing attack. Indiana lost Tevin Coleman but replace him with a 2,400-yard rusher in UAB transfer Jordan Howard.
Minnesota lost Cobb, and it’s unsure where the offense will come from.
It’s not to say anything bad about the guy who’ll likely be the new starter in Rodrick Williams. And Berkley Edwards had flashes of brilliance early on last season, too, and could be a big part of things in 2015. But look at the numbers, and you’ll see how important Cobb was. He accounted for more than 58 percent of Minnesota’s rushing yards, going for 1,626 of the team’s 2,801-yard total. And he dominated the touches, too, accounting for than more than half of the rushing attempts.
In fact, of the team’s four leading rushers a season ago, Cobb was the only running back in that group. Cobb was a workhorse, as illustrated by the fact that Williams and Edwards combined for just 53 carries and 254 yards despite playing in practically every game (Edwards missed one).
Head coach Jerry Kill said it’s next man up, something that’s much easier to see happening at Wisconsin and Indiana. But it’s the strategy Minnesota is going with, too.
"I think that's our jobs,” Kill said at Big Ten Media Days last month. “I'll give an example, Ohio State. They just lose one, bring another one in. (A reference to the Buckeyes’ quarterback situation from last year.) That's what you have to do if you're going to have a good team. And at running back, Rodrick Williams is a young man that is waiting his turn. And I think he's going to be a tremendous back. He's a big back and had a tremendous spring.
“We've got a redshirt freshman in Ronnie Williams. And then a young man that's put on about 12, 13 pounds I'm very excited about is Berkley Edwards because he's got to get at overspeed, and he's weighing 180. Now he's about 202. Then we recruited well there. So running backs, I don't have any concerns there.”
The Gophers might have guys to step in and carry the ball, but doing it with the same success as Cobb is another question altogether.
And the importance stretches beyond the running game to the offense as a whole because passing has not been a strong suit for Minnesota in recent seasons. Indiana was the only Big Ten team with a worse passing offense last season. If the running game takes a dramatic hit and the passing game can’t pick up the slack, where will the offense come from for the Gophers?
Minnesota will miss Cobb, that’s for sure. Whether or not some of his slack can be picked up remains to be seen.