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Minnesota running back Donnell Kirkwood eyeing 1,000 yards

Jesse Johnson / Associated Press
A 1,000-yard season is a very realistic goal for Minnesota running back Donnell Kirkwood.

Minnesota had a 1,000-yard rusher for eight consecutive seasons from 1999-2006, and from 2003-05, the Golden Gophers had two backs reach the plateau each season.

But the Golden Gophers haven't had a back reach 1,000 yards since Amir Pinnix did it in '06.

Donnell Kirkwood, who finished 74 yards shy of 1,000 last season, could end the drought this fall.

1983 NFL Draft, 12th round, Denver Broncos -- Mecklenburg played 12 seasons for the Broncos (1983-1994). He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of three Broncos teams that advanced to the Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXI, Super Bowl XXII and Super Bowl XXIV). (AP Photo/Paul Spinelli)
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Kirkwood (5-foot-10, 223 pounds), a junior, lacks breakaway speed but is a physical runner -- hey, he goes by "TonkaToy_20" on Twitter -- who is comfortable running between the tackles. He had seven games with at least 17 carries and four times had at least 22 carries. Kirkwood averaged 107.8 yards in the Golden Gophers' six wins but just 39.9 in their seven losses.

Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has said that Kirkwood "absolutely" will have a shot at 1,000 yards this season.

The Golden Gophers' offensive line returns four starters, and coaches have said they think sophomore QB Philip Nelson will be more effective as a passer in his first full season as the starter. The passing attack was poor last season and Kirkwood saw a lot of eight-man fronts.

Kirkwood admitted to having some doubt he could be the featured back last season, but those days are gone, and he and sophomore Rodrick Williams (5-11, 235) give the Gophers a solid tailback duo.

Last season was the first time Minnesota didn't finish 10th or worse in rushing in the Big Ten since 2007, and the Gophers haven't finished in the top half of the league in rushing since '06. That could change this fall if Kirkwood has a big season.

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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