Updated: 08/14/2014 5:17 PM
Created: 08/14/2014 3:41 PM KSTP.com
By: Grant Bosiacki
The Minnesota Gophers football team is two weeks away from their season opener vs Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium.
Getting off to a good start and winning their non-conference games is critical if the team wants to better their nine wins from last season. Senior running back Donnell Kirkwood said the team is definitely capable of accomplishing that goal.
"We're definitely capable of not nine, not ten, but more (wins)," Kirkwood said. "We feel like we can beat anyone on the schedule."
The Gophers went 4-0 in non-conference play last year. To repeat that feat this year they'll have to take care of business at home vs. Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee St. and San Jose St. They'll also have to travel to Fort Worth, Texas and beat TCU Sept. 13.
One of the biggest keys to starting off the season strong will be based off the production of sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner. Leidner split playing time in 2013 with Phillip Nelson, who transferred to Rutgers before getting dismissed from the program, which leaves no doubt who the guy is this year. Starting center Tommy Olson said it's easy to rally around Leidner because of the type of leader he is.
"He'll hold you accountable. In captains practice, if someone is slacking off, he'll let you know," Olson said." He's not scared, but he'll be your friend too. That's just him being in a leadership role."
Leidner was used more as a runner in offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover's offense, rushing for seven touchdowns, while only passing for three.
The Gophers will return their top running back in David Cobb, who was the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards since Amir Pinnix ran for 1,312 yards in 2006. The question the coaching staff is trying to work out is who Cobb's top backup will be.
Kirkwood ran for 926 yards and six touchdowns in 2012 and went into last season as the starter, but last season he was injured and ineffective when he was on the field, rushing for only 2.3 yards per carry. On the other hand, Junior Roderick Williams Jr. ran for 5.5 yards per carry and finished with the second most yards of all running backs, with 332.
Williams, a Lewisville, Tex. native, plays the bruising role of any backfield he's in. Listed at 5'11" 247 pounds, Williams knows he's a guy that can't dance around too much in the backfield.
"I'm a guy that makes one cut and gets vertical," Williams said.
Williams also said he definitely enjoys running square into a defender and running him over.
"It feels good. You get the dominant type of feeling," Williams said. "Linebackers expect someone like 200 pounds coming through and then they meet someone that's the same size as them. So I like it that I'm coming full speed and most of the time they aren't coming full speed so it's about who's going to win the momentum game."
*Click the video above to hear KSTP's Darren "Doogie" Wolfson talk with Kirkwood, Olson and Williams Jr.*