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Gophers running back Rodney Smith is out for the season, to seek sixth year

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith (1) rushes with the ball in the first half against the New Mexico State Aggies at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Aug. 30, 2018. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers star running back Rodney Smith will miss the rest of the 2018 season with a left knee injury he suffered in the 21-14 win Saturday over Fresno State, the school confirmed Monday, Sept. 10.

"I am devastated for Rodney, but I know he will keep his oar in the water and continue to move forward and attack his rehabilitation process," Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. "He is a leader on this team and I look forward to him working with our young players as we continue to grow this season.

"We will file a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility with the NCAA right after the season is over. We believe Rodney meets all the requirements for the waiver and fully expect that it will be granted."

Smith, a redshirt senior, was expected to carry a big load for a Gophers offense filled with freshmen. After Smith was lost on the third offensive play, Minnesota had a true freshmen lead them in passing (Zack Annexstad), rushing (Bryce Williams) and receiving (Rashod Bateman) in a comeback over Fresno State.

Fleck initially planned to share the extent of Smith's injury during his press conference Tuesday, but responded to news of Smith's injury breaking on The Athletic on Monday afternoon. His desire was to do so with the "official results" and "with a lot of other things attached to it," Fleck said earlier Monday in a meeting with beat reporters.

Smith, a redshirt senior from Jonesboro, Ga., needed help getting off the field after catching an 11-yard screen pass on the Gophers' third play Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. After being assessed in Minnesota's injury tent, he remained on the sideline with the team throughout the comeback win over the Bulldogs.

With Minnesota's top three running backs out — Smith, Shannon Brooks (knee) and Mohamed Ibrahim (leg) — the Gophers primarily turned to Williams, a true freshman who ran for 87 yards on 25 carries against Fresno State. The Sarasota, Fla., native had five carries for 28 yards on the Gophers' go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

The Gophers also used Jonathan Femi-Cole (three carries, 13 yard) against Fresno State. They also have true freshman Nolan Edmonds and redshirt freshman Dominik London, of East Ridge High School. Neither has played this year.

Ibrahim, a redshirt freshman, was injured on a 74-yard run against New Mexico State on Aug. 30. Ibrahim suited up against Fresno State, but didn't play. Fleck has not described his injury as serious.

Fleck said true senior Brooks, who tore his ACL in the last week of winter workouts in early 2018, could take advantage of the new redshirt rule that allows for players to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.

Smith, who tore an ACL in high school, had 215 all-purpose yards in two games this season, which ranks in seventh on the Gophers' all-time all-purpose yardage list (4,065). With 189 total yards against New Mexico State, he was on pace to break Darrell Thompson's all-purpose yardage mark (5,109) this season.