No. 8 Minnesota riding a wave into No. 20 Iowa

Sports

Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck surfed the locker room after what non-believers would call an upset over Penn State last week, then asked his players to grab a hand.

“Whatever you believe in, whoever you believe in, this is what sport does, bring so many people together,” Fleck told the group after his 18-second ride.

“… to do something uncommon, do something extraordinary.”

Making a bronze pig fly might qualify.

The No. 8 Golden Gophers, who are 9-0 for the first time since 1904, will visit No. 20 Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) on Saturday. The winner is awarded possession of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, a bronze sculpture in the shape of a pig. Iowa has won the last four meetings.

The Gophers (6-0 Big Ten) jumped nine spots in this week’s College Football Playoffs rankings in their history-making season. They are ranked as high as seventh in the AP poll for the first time since 1962.

“They’ve earned that right to be ranked that high,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When it gets down to us, trying to play a little cleaner, a little bit better, knowing we have a top-ranked opponent to be the challenge.”

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Rodney Smith and wide receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman lead an offense that has scored at least four touchdowns in every game and is averaging 37.6 points and 432.9 yards.

Morgan completed 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-26 victory over Penn State, becoming the second FBS quarterback in the last 20 years to have multiple games in a season with a completion percentage of 90 percent (minimum 20 passes). Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the other.

Morgan was 21 of 22 with career highs of 396 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-31 victory at Purdue on Sept. 28, a victory that got this juggernaut rolling.

If the Gophers are fazed by their ascension after going 7-6 last season and 5-7 in Fleck’s first year, it has not shown.

“We train in pressure situations,” Morgan said, adding that the key is “understanding the difference between pressure and stress. Stress is what you can’t control. Pressure is earned. You should want pressure, because that means your life is significant and you are doing significant things.”

Gophers defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. has set a school season record with seven interceptions after getting two against Penn State for a defense that is limiting opponents to 309.8 yards per game. Bateman had a school home-game record 203 yards receiving against the Nittany Lions.

Minnesota has a two-game cushion in the Big Ten West over Wisconsin with three games remaining. The teams meet in Minneapolis on Nov. 30 to end the regular season.

Iowa has been close to contention in the West, having lost its three conference games by seven, five and two points, all to ranked teams. The most recent was a 24-22 loss at Wisconsin last Saturday, when Jonathan Taylor rushed for 250 yards, the first Iowa opponent to break 100.

Ferentz’s defense is ranked in the FBS top 20 in rushing, passing, scoring and total defense. The Hawkeyes have given up only 12 touchdowns, behind only Ohio State (eight) and Georgia (10) in the FBS, and have shut out Rutgers and Northwestern.

–Field Level Media

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