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Turnover margin is no longer marginal for Minnesota offense and defense

Minnesota coach Glen Mason likes to knock on wood.

He did it a couple times Tuesday in front of reporters at his weekly press conference.

“I am a little superstitious,” Mason said before he began talking about his team’s plus-7 turnover margin.

Last season, the Gophers were minus-1 in 13 games, producing only 16 turnovers. This season, they already have eight in four games.

“The thing that didn’t jibe with a 10-3 football team is the turnover margin,” Mason said. “And if you look at it closely, it wasn’t because the offense was turning a lot of balls over; it was a result of the defense not getting turnovers. Obviously, we’ve been doing a little better in that area.”

Minnesota’s defense caused four turnovers Sept. 18 against Colorado State. It added an interception Saturday against Northwestern.

In their 4-0 start, the Gophers have only turned the ball over once and haven’t thrown an interception.

“We want to keep not turning the ball over and having people we play turn it over,” Mason said.

Minnesota cornerbacks Ukee Dozier and Trumaine Banks lead the Gophers in takeaways with two interceptions apiece.

Mason also knocked on the podium after he talked about the team’s injury situation.

So far, Mason said, the Gophers have had the encouraging and unique trend of becoming healthier as the season has progressed.

“I stood here last week (and said) that we were healthier going into Northwestern than we were all season,” Mason said. “I am happy to say that we will be healthier going into this game than we were going into Northwestern.”

Mills might play

Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose Lions come to the Metrodome on Saturday, has serious injury problems, on the other hand.

Zack Mills and Michael Robinson, who both see regular action at quarterback for the Lions, were injured in last week’s game against Wisconsin.

Robinson will definitely not play against the Gophers on Saturday, Paterno said.

Mills is questionable for the game, he said, and he will be evaluated as Saturday draws nearer.

“(Mills) is optimistic that he might be able to go this week,” Paterno said. “It is not his throwing arm. It is the other arm. He had a partial separation. I think they think they can strap it up and the whole bit, but if there is any danger, we won’t use him.”

Mills, a senior, is the Lions’ career leader in total offense and pass completions.

Iowa happy with bye

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will get a chance to take a sigh this week.

The Hawkeyes (2-2), who are coming off two tough losses to Arizona State and No. 19 Michigan, have a bye Saturday.

“It’s probably a fortunate thing for us,” Ferentz said.

Only two weeks ago, Iowa was No. 16. This week, it received no votes.

Ferentz said he hopes the bye will give the team some time to work things out.

“We are a patchwork outfit right now, and hopefully we can get some continuity,” he said.

Ferentz said his only concern about the week off is injuries. Last season, Iowa lost its starting center before it went to Columbus, Ohio, to play Ohio State. Iowa lost 19-10.

“(The bye week) will be a help to us if we can get through it injury-free,” Ferentz said.

Davis cleared to play

Wisconsin senior running back Anthony Davis has been cleared to play Saturday at Ohio State.

Davis sustained an eye injury in the 20th-ranked Badgers’ season opener against Central Florida and has sat out the last three games.

He met with University of Wisconsin ophthalmologists Monday and was given the OK.

“He’s a guy who can hit a home run at any time and causes problems for defenses because of his speed,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

Davis is Wisconsin’s second-leading all-time rusher behind the current New York Giant Ron Dayne. Davis had 78 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against Central Florida before he was injured.

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