Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 Things to know about Minnesota

P.J. Fleck played against Hawkeyes in Kirk Ferentz's first game as head coach

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck cheers his team during an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 31-26. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck cheers his team during an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 31-26. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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One trophy gone, another on the line.

That’s just part of the scenario on Saturday when Minnesota visits Iowa and Kinnick Stadium for the 113th game in this Big Ten football rivalry.

The bigger story, of course, is the 2019 Gophers. The seventh-ranked Gophers. The unbeaten Gophers.

A win Saturday could be a season-saver for the Hawkeyes, who lost the Heartland Trophy game at Wisconsin last Saturday after a missed two-point conversion.

Now it’s Floyd of Rosedale time and the bronzed pig, introduced to this series in 1935, will be up for grabs.

Here are 5 Things about Minnesota:

1. Gopher power

Minnesota not only is 9-0 for the first time since 1903, but has won 11 straight games.

That’s a lot of winning for a program that isn’t used to a lot of winning.

Only Clemson (24) and Ohio State (15) have longer winning streaks than Minnesota, which ended last season at 7-6 after wins at Wisconsin and in Detroit at the Quick Lane Bowl over Georgia Tech.

Baylor also has won 11 in a row and its hosts Oklahoma on Saturday.

One of five undefeated teams in college football, Minnesota also is 6-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1961.

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After Saturday’s 31-26 win over Penn State at a sold-out TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers gave the state of Minnesota the game ball.

“I’m just so proud to be a Gopher,” Coach P.J. Fleck said.

2. Meet Tanner Morgan

If you’ve been paying attention to Big Ten football this fall, you’ve probably noticed Minnesota’s sophomore quarterback.

Morgan not only has led his team to a perfect start, he also ranks fourth in the country and first in the conference with a 191.0 passing efficiency rating. The 6-foot-2, 215 pounder from Union, Ky., has completed 131 of 193 passes (67 percent) for 2,100 yards with 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s averaging 233 passing yards per game.

 

Against Penn State, he completed 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards and three TDs, earning Big Ten player of the week honors for the second time this season.

“He’s a winner,” Fleck said Saturday. “A guy you want to marry your daughter ... he’s special. Special.

“He knows how to take programs where they are and take them where they always dreamed to be.”

3. There’s more

Morgan isn’t the only star on the Minnesota offense.

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After Jonathan Taylor ran through the Iowa defense last week to the tune of 250 yards and 8.1 yard per carry, Minnesota’s Rodney Smith has to be smiling right now.

The 5-11, 210-pound senior from Jonesboro, Ga., ranks third in the Big Ten at 104.4 yards per game. He has 940 total rushing yards and averages 5.5 yards per carry.

Minnesota also has three more than capable wide receivers in Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Johnson has a team-high 50 catches (730 yards) and Bateman has a team-best 847 yards (38 catches). The two have combined for 15 touchdowns. Autman-Bell completes that trio with 20 catches for 319 yards and five TDs.

4. On the defense

Minnesota doesn’t have a defense like Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan or even the Hawkeyes.

But it’s not bad.

The Gophers rank sixth in the league and 15th nationally in total defense, allowing 309.8 yards per game. They allow just over 20 points per game.

Junior defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. is the undisputed leader. Like Morgan, he earned Big Ten player of the week honors Monday after collecting a team-high 11 tackles with two interceptions in the win over the Nittany Lions. He has a team-high seven picks this fall, tying a Minnesota school record set in 1970, and leads the team with 57 total tackles.

Linebacker Carter Coughlin is the biggest disrupter with team highs of eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Lineman Sam Renner checks in at with three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.

5. Fleck flexing

Minnesota’s coach is the butt of many “row the boat” jokes but he definitely has this ship headed in the right direction.

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His three Gopher teams have compiled records of 5-7, 7-6 and, of course, now 9-0. At Western Michigan, he had a 30-22 record in four seasons that included a 1-11 mark his first year and a 13-1 tally his last.

Fleck, who will be 39 at the end of the month, is an avid runner who completed his first marathon in 2009. He also was a heck of a football player who caught 179 career passes for 2,162 yards at Northern Illinois after a standout prep career in Maple Park, Ill.

During his freshman season at NIU — in 1999 — he caught two passes for 17 yards and returned a kickoff 20 yards in a 24-0 loss to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. That happened to be Kirk Ferentz’s first win a Hawkeye coach.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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