Senior adding his name to list of Gophers running backs
Being forgotten isn’t always bad news.
Minnesota’s David Cobb has twice been overlooked in his collegiate career. He’s been a name on a roster for two years, and before that, he was a name added to a signing list more than a week after most teams wrapped up recruiting in 2011.
By virtue of playing at Minnesota in a league with two headlining tailbacks, Cobb may be overshadowed, but he can’t be ignored anymore.
Cobb ranks sixth nationally in rushing yards per game at 144.4 yards. Yet even in the Big Ten, he’ll have trouble being noticed as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah entered the season with more fanfare.
This week, though, Cobb will be one of the key players in the spotlight. With Northwestern at 2-0 in the Big Ten and Minnesota picking up a 30-14 win over Michigan, the two teams will face off in a surprisingly important game in the Big Ten West division race.
Cobb has been the focal point for a Minnesota team that has been one of the tougher outs in the Big Ten since last October. Since Cobb has become the primary running back, Minnesota is 8-4 with wins over Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan.
Much of that is because the senior Cobb has been a workhorse back for Minnesota, a throwback to when the Gophers churned out 1,000-yard running backs on a yearly basis from 1999-2006.
In his last 12 games, Cobb has topped 25 carries seven times, including 66 rushes in his last two games.
“I didn’t play much my first two years, so I never want to come out,” Cobb told Athlon Sports.
This week’s game against Northwestern ultimately may end up being a footnote during the season, but Cobb’s emergence is a reminder to exhaust every option and make every phone call in recruiting.
Cobb was the last player Minnesota coach Jerry Kill signed in his first recruiting class in Minneapolis. Minnesota signed the running back from Killeen, Texas, on Feb. 11, 2011. Signing Day that year was Feb. 2.
That year, Cobb had held out hope to join the signing class at Stanford, but he was never able to take a visit to Palo Alto and lost out on a numbers game in David Shaw's first class. Memphis, North Texas, Texas State, Army and Navy also recruited Cobb, but he wasn’t completely sold on any of them.
Even though Cobb rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in three seasons at Killeen Ellison, major programs had good reason to overlook even a prolific tailback from a team that went 0-10 his senior year and 4-6 in each of his first two. Recruited as an "athlete," he had no clear position waiting for him in college.
Kill and former assistant Thomas Hammock had recruited Texas enough to build contacts throughout talent-rich areas. Considering they were recruiting for Minnesota — and before that, Northern Illinois — the Gophers often recruited prospects outside of “the circle.”
That's to say Minnesota had little interest in going head-to-head with Big 12 programs like Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor to pry kids out of the Lone Star State.
A three-star prospect who was listed as an athlete despite his prodigious production in the Wing T fit the bill.
“To a kid like David at running back we are appealing because that’s something we’ve done really well (at Minnesota),” running backs coach Pat Poore told Athlon Sports. “He’s a kid who wants to run the ball but not necessarily in a one-back spread offense.”
Cobb said he didn’t know much about Minnesota until they called his high school coach after Signing Day and persuaded him to take a visit to Minnesota.
A trip to Minnesota in February didn’t deter him, especially once he started to look at what Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney did at Minnesota under former coach Glen Mason.
Cobb said he also built a relationship with Jerry Kill, who had little interest in sugar-coating what he might expect with the Gophers.
“When you’re being recruited, they tell you you can play or you can have this number or whatever and put a big picture in your head that’s unrealistic,” Cobb said. “(Kill) told me that if I wanted it, I was going to have to work for it and that I had a chance to play. If I was good enough, he’d play me. If I wasn’t, I’d sit on the bench. Unfortunately, that’s what I did.”
Cobb carried only 11 times during his first two seasons, a long way from the workhorse back from high school.
He remained a secondary option until his junior season. In his first career start against Northwestern on Oct. 19, Cobb rushed for 103 yards on 20 carries in the first of four consecutive wins for Minnesota.
With five 100-yard games in the final seven in 2013, Cobb became Minnesota’s first 1,000-yard back since Amir Pinnix in 2006.
“He’s developed himself into a really good running back to where he can handle that workload and stay healthy and play with a lot of juice and physicality,” Poore said. “From a mental standpoint, he’s in a great sync right now with the tempo he plays with and the vision that he has.”
Cobb is well ahead of that pace again with 722 yards through the first five games.
Minnesota isn’t a team that’s going to pass on every down, especially as starting quarterback Mitch Leidner has missed time this season with turf toe.
That has put the offense on Cobb, who carried 34 times for 207 yards with two touchdowns against San Jose State when the Gophers were down to a backup quarterback. He added 32 carries for 183 yards in the 30-14 win over Michigan.
With another 29-carry, 220-yard performance earlier in the year, Cobb earned Minnesota’s off week last week.
“He was beat up a bit after the Michigan game and we didn’t do a lot with him until (eight days later) because he carried it and he was beat up some,” Kill said. “He seems to be doing well. At times we need to spell him a little bit more, but it’s hard to take him off the field.”
As Cobb says, though, he has plenty of carries saved up from his first two seasons as the forgotten man on campus.
“As far as body-wise, I’m feeling good, maybe some bruises here and there,” Cobb said.” When you win, you’re not sore at all.”