Notebook: Cobb looks like a feature back for gophers
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers football coach Jerry Kill admits he's been very tough on running back David Cobb.
Kill recruited Cobb, so he had high hopes for the Texas native.
Through two seasons with the Gophers, Cobb had done very little. He played in four games as a freshman and five as a sophomore, not making a significant contribution either season.
Heading into his junior season this fall, Cobb was stuck down low on the Gophers depth chart. Donnell Kirkwood was locked in as the No. 1 back, and talented players like Rodrick Williams and freshman Berkley Edwards were in the mix, hindering Cobb's path to playing time.
But Edwards suffered an injury in training camp, and Kirkwood went down in the opener. That opened the door for Williams and Cobb.
Williams received the first looks, but Cobb got his carries, too. And by the second half of Sunday's 43-24 victory over San Jose State at TCF Bank Stadium, Cobb had given Kill food for thought about his ability to carry the load as a feature back for the Gophers.
Cobb's running style is impressive. His first option always is to run around defenders. But Plan B is to run them over.
Cobb has made every carry count this season. He came into Saturday's game averaging a team-best 7.4 yards per carry.
Cobb took it to another level against SJSU. Williams again got the first look, but Cobb took over late in the first half and throughout the second half. He finished with career highs in carries (25), yards (128) and touchdowns (two).
"I've been real proud of David," Kill said. "We recruited him, and I've been tough on David. ... I think he came in with a great attitude in camp. And success helps everybody."
Kill said recruiting Cobb's cousin, Damien Wilson, also helped.
"That's always a positive, to have family here," Cobb said. "He's my roommate, and he sees things I don't see sometimes. Having that family bond up here, it's huge."
Cobb's play on the goal line in the fourth quarter showed exactly how much he's improved, Kill said. The Gophers went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and gave the ball to Cobb. He was met at the goal line but kept his feet moving and stretched the ball out into the end zone.
"We didn't want to kick a field goal there," Kill said. "He needed half a yard and he had to work to get it in there. David used to run with a high pad level, but he's lowered that, and game bby game, he gets better. I'm glad to see that for him. I've been tough on him, and he's had to earn this. He's worked for it, so give credit to him."
Cobb's play has made it easier for Kill to consider redshirting Edwards. But what happens when Kirkwood is healthy?
Kill didn't give a definitive answer. It seems unlikely he could take Cobb out of the rotation, though, after Saturday's big game.
Cobb was quick to credit others for his success.
"The offensive line did a great job of getting a push," he said. "The coaches kept telling us to take the right tracks and the big plays will happen. The o-line was great, though, and Mitch (Leidner) did great, too."
With Gophers starter Philip Nelson out due to injury, redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner received the start Saturday.
While Leidner was unable to do much damage with his arm (5-of-12 for just 71 yards), he dominated the SJSU defense with his powerful running.
Leidner carried 23 times for 151 yards and a whopping four touchdowns.
Asked if he'd rather see Leidner get out of bounds and slide on more runs, Kills said simply, "That's not who he is."
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Leidner is just as big as many of the defenders he's facing. And he seems more than comfortable dishing out a hit while running the read-option.
"He doesn't back down from anybody," Kill said. "You have to play smart, but you can't change who a kid is. Mitch is a tough kid."
Leidner's teammates said he was the "same old Mitch" leading up to and during Saturday's game, despite being elevated to No. 1 on the depth chart.
"It was the same Mitch, smiling, joking around, laughing and just living in the moment," Cobb said.
Kill was quick to say Nelson still is his starting quarterback. But he said Leidner's performance does give them options.
"We're in about as good a position as we can be at that spot right now," Kill said.
Linebacker Le'Vondre Campbell made his first start as a Gopher, and he was a big part of the defense's second-half turnaround.
Campbell had six tackles and was big from sideline to sideline, keeping standout quarterback David Fales out of rhythm in the second half.
Kill said Campbell is the type of big-play athlete the defense needs to compete in the Big Ten. Now that he's up to speed with the defensive scheme, Campbell will be a regular cog on that unit.
With Campbell stepping up, it allowed senior returner Aaron Hill to have another big game. Hill had a crucial interception to start the second half.
"I do think that was a big turning point," Hill said.
Both Campbell and Hill said one of the big adjustments in the second half was the coaching staff instructing them to play more outside, and creep out toward the sidelines.
That put them in passing lines and opened things up to pressure the quarterback more often.
"Anytime you've got a good quarterback who gets in a rhythm, you have to get him out of that rhythm," Kill said. "We got the linebackers involved in pressure. Once you get that pressure, you still have to cover, and we did a good job of that in the second half."
Kill said the adjustments were minor, but he really challenged his defense at halftime.
"Really, all I said was, 'Are you giving me your best? That's all I ask. But are you doing that? We're a good football team, so just look yourself in the mirror and ask if you're giving your best,'" Kill said.