Recharging running game no easy task

Brian Stensaas

After minimal ground success against Ohio State and Michigan, Minnesota running back Terry Jackson II is more than aware of the task he and the rest of the Gophers’ offense face Saturday against Iowa.

“They have one of the better defenses in the nation,” Jackson said. “We just have to get a few good runs on them to gain some confidence because it’s going to be tough to get (confidence) after the two losses.”

It’s a feat that will be a lot easier said than done.

The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten) enter the game as the conference’s top-ranked rushing defense, allowing a mere 67.1 yards per game. They rank second nationally behind Texas Christian University.

Minnesota, which prided itself on running up 1,110 yards in games against Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan State, has accumulated only 180 yards the past two weeks. However, thanks to the three-game explosion, the Gophers still rank first in the Big Ten in rushing at 234.8 yards per game.

Coach Glen Mason attributes Iowa’s defensive success to sound players at every position.

“Their defensive line is very good, their linebackers are very accurate, their inside guys are really good and their cornerbacks have developed over the season,” Mason said. “They play extremely hard and have been able to stay healthy, which is a plus for them.”

Should Minnesota’s ground game again be stopped, quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq will be looked at to save the day through the air, a trend he hasn’t had much success with this season.

No receiver has racked up more than 88 yards in a single game so far, and that might need to change if the Gophers expect to win.

Going like hotcakes

approximately 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s tilt with Iowa at the Metrodome. Last week’s game against the Wolverines attracted 53,773 fans, a season high. Should the Dome sell out, it would be the largest crowd since last season when 55,890 fans witnessed the Gophers reclaim the Paul Bunyan Axe from Wisconsin.

Speaking of the Badgers, the Nov. 23 game at Camp Randall Stadium against Minnesota will start at 11:05 a.m. ESPN will broadcast the event.

Tops in all the land

They were likely dancing on the streets and in the bars of Columbus, Ohio on Monday night after Ohio State was revealed as the top team in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Buckeyes (11-0, 6-0) edged Miami by a slim 3.41-4.10 margin to take the top spot. At the end of the season, the top two teams in the BCS rankings will play for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl.

BCS rankings are determined by a computer program that takes into account average national poll ranking, strength of schedule, losses and quality wins.

Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to hold the top spot since the rankings’ inception in 1998. After the Buckeyes jumped out to an 8-0 record that year, they were the top team in the Nov. 2 rankings.

Smoker done for season

michigan State interim head coach Morris Watts confirmed Tuesday quarterback Jeff Smoker will not return to the field this season. Watts also said Smoker will soon make a statement regarding his situation.

Smoker, who threw for a school record 21 touchdown passes last season and led the Big Ten with an efficiency rating of 166.4, was suspended from the team on Oct. 24 for a violation of team rules. Last week, his family announced he was seeking help for an undisclosed substance-abuse problem.

Packing ’em in

for the 10th straight season, more than four million fans have witnessed Big Ten football games. The league is averaging 70,402 fans per game, which is on pace to break the existing record of 70,305 set last season.

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]