Minnesota firing on all cylinders as they prepare for Maryland

The lack of mistakes bodes well for Minnesota as they head into the tougher part of their schedule.

by John Miller

The Gophers are playing some of their best football in recent memory, and the program is riding high after getting off to a 7-0 (4-0 in conference) record to start the season.

Last week, the Gophers dominated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, winning 42-7. On Sunday, the Gophers moved up from the No. 20 spot in the AP Poll to No. 17.

Rodney Smith averaged 5.8 yards per carry on 19 rushing attempts for 111 yards. Smith has now eclipsed 100 yards rushing in four straight games.

It was over when

The Gophers were up 28-0 and Rutgers redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan threw a pass right into the hands of Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who intercepted the ball and took it back 33 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 35-0 lead.

Key Play:

Up 21-0 over the Scarlet Knights, the Gophers knew that they needed to continue to put points on the board to put the game away. Minnesota was in the red zone at the six-yard line and facing a fourth-and-one situation. Instead of kicking a field goal, the Gophers went for it on fourth down, handing the ball off to running back Mohamed Ibrahim. He would not only pick up the first down, but he would find the end zone to give the Gophers a four-touchdown lead.

Five Observations:

1) The Gophers’ defense is legit.

After starting off the year giving up 29.75 points per game in their first four games, the defense has been knocking the socks off of opposing offenses. In the last three games against Big Ten foes Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers, the defense has allowed a total of 17 points. Minnesota has now forced 12 turnovers on the season, 9 of which have been interceptions. The Gopher defense ranks seventh in the country in forced interceptions

2) Rodney Smith is dominating.

Running back Rodney Smith is imposing his will on opposing defenses. In the last four games, Smith has been a machine, accruing 576 yards rushing yards and 6.93 yards per carry. He also has five touchdowns. Smith has provided stability to the Gophers backfield as they have dealt with injuries early on in the season.

3) Even when quarterback Tanner Morgan struggles, he perseveres.

Morgan struggled against Rutgers. He missed open receivers on several occasions and finished the game completing only 53.6% of his passes. Only in two out of seven games this season has Morgan completed less than 60% of his passes. Despite the poor game, Morgan still finished strong with 245 yards passing and two touchdowns. 

4) Minnesota’s offense has not turned the ball over.

Turnovers can kill a drive, a game — you name it. If you lose the turnover battle, you’re probably going to lose. Minnesota has turned the ball over eight times through seven games this season, No. 30 in the country. Morgan has only thrown three interceptions all year. Safe to say as long as Minnesota keeps the turnovers down, that will give them a chance to win every game. 

5) Penalties? Not a problem.

Minnesota is one of the least penalized teams in the nation. As the Gophers prepare to face Maryland, they have the fourth-fewest penalties in the country, averaging 4.28 penalties per game so far this season. The preparation and lack of mental mistakes allows the Gophers to avoid difficult situations on offense and defense.