The Gophers extended their Big Ten winning streak to four games and kept themselves alive in the Legends Division title race by beating Penn State this weekend. They’re going to need a little help, but they haven’t been eliminated yet, which is unprecedented for the Gophers in November. Not to mention, Minnesota be in the mix to host ESPN’s College GameDay against Wisconsin when they resume their schedule after the bye week. Again, the fact that the Gophers are even in consideration for hosting College GameDay is unprecedented. Don’t believe me? Here’s a tweet from the GameDay producer himself.
— Lee Fitting (@leefitting) November 10, 2013
There was plenty to like from the Gophers victory over Penn State. Everything from opportunistic defense, to clutch third down conversions, and spectacular special teams, so let’s get to it.
WHAT I LIKED
1. Peter Mortell: You know those Chuck Norris jokes? You know like “Chuck Norris has already been to Mars; that’s why there are no signs of life.” I’m pretty sure they’re going to make some of those about Mortell because the dude has been lights out. How about this? “A solar eclipse occurs when Peter Mortell’s punt passes between the sun and the earth and partially blocks the sun.” I don’t remember in my lifetime when I saw a punter actually affecting the outcome of a game. I did last Saturday when I witnessed Peter Mortell boot three punts inside the 20, including two inside the three yard line!
2. Eric Murray at cornerback: Murray picked off a pass while defending top Penn State receiver Allen Robinson in the end zone. The interception was negated due to a Minnesota offsides, but Murray still prevented a Penn State touchdown and was sensational the entire afternoon. Murray has a bright future in the Minnesota secondary. He’s only a true sophomore.
3. The turnover battle: I know it’s not sexy, but winning the turnover battle is huge. The Gophers won the turnover battle by a margin of 2-1. It’s not a coincidence that the Gophers have won the turnover battle in three out of the last four games. Both Penn State turnovers were costly, one coming on the opening drive deep in their own territory that the Gophers converted into a field goal and the other one was when they were about to score, fumbling on the Gophers one yard line.
4. Philip Nelson’s consistency: Nelson has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions during the Gophers’ winning streak. Not too shabby. I don’t know if the Gophers would be on this winning streak if they hadn’t settled on a quarterback. Nelson has emerged as the leader of this offense.
5. The offensive line: This is the offensive line that Matt Limegrover and Jerry Kill envisioned when they arrived in Minneapolis three years ago. This isn’t a glamour group, it’s just a blue collar bunch that brings their lunch pail to work and gets the job done. Tommy Olson has been fantastic replacing Jon Christenson at center.
6. The emergence of go-to receivers: Maxx Williams, Derrick Engel, and Donovahn Jones are turning into legitimate threats down field in the passing game. That trend will need to continue if they are going to beat teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State because both the Badgers and Spartans have excellent defenses.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
1. Allowing Zach Zwinak to look like Mike Alstott: The Zwinack kid looks like a big strong back that can push the pile and keep the chains moving and the Gophers couldn’t stop him. Zwinak averaged 5.8 yards per carry and whenever he needed three yards, he seemingly got five instead. He was rendered irrelevant at the end of the game due to the fact Penn State was down a couple touchdowns and needed to score fast. It’s a good thing the Gophers built up a lead because if they got down. Zwinak could have done some serious damage.
2. The attendance: Yes, I’m going to piss and moan about the attendance. Minnesota only drew 48,123 fans on Saturday, which is more than 2,000 fans shy of capacity. How can a Big Ten team that’s enjoying its most successful year in a long time not sell out? A bunch of people are probably going to disagree with me, but that’s unacceptable.
3. Donnell Kirkwood: Kirkwood has been banged up this year and he hasn’t been able to find last season’s form. Whenever Kirkwood gets the ball it looks like he just falls into the line of scrimmage for one yard. There’s no burst, no juice, no explosion, no nothing. As soon as Kirkwood takes the ball, I start falling asleep. It’s like watching my neighbor paint his garage — it’s not interesting. The Gophers are going to need Kirkwood or Rodrick Williams to emerge the last two games of the season if they want to upset Wisconsin or Michigan State. David Cobb is going to need some help, and a breather.
4. Paging Ra’Shede Hageman: Where was he on Saturday against Penn State? He wasn’t on the field much. He only registered one tackle and wasn’t much of a factor.