After their 24-10 victory over the surging Penn State Nittany Lions, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stand at 8-2 and are now a legitimate threat to shake up the Big 10 this season. This is the first time since 2003 the Gophers have accumulated eight wins in a single season, and the best part for the Gophers is that they still have two games remaining before bowl season.
Plenty of things went right for the Gophers on Saturday, but the single player who made the biggest impact was junior running back David Cobb. Since the injury to Rodrick Williams Jr., the majority of carries have gone to Cobb, who was averaging 5.4 yards per carry heading into the game and didn’t disappoint running the ball 27 times for 139 yards and one touchdown. Even though the stats clearly show Cobb dominated on the ground, what the stats don’t show are the numerous big runs he had, the most important of which was a 44-yard run that began at the Gophers’ own one yard line and took away the opportunity for a Penn State safety.
Cobb also came up big blocking rushers numerous times, and the junior is really developing into a solid all-around running back that has now rushed for over 100 yards in five consecutive games. Cobb is closing in on 1,000 yards, and he would be the first Golden Gopher to reach said mark since 2006 when Amir Pinnix shone as a junior. Cobb’s ability to run and block really helped Philip Nelson and the pass game, as Nelson had his fourth consecutive game without an interception and threw for 186 yards on just 15 completions.
While Penn State’s 5-4 record doesn’t pin them as a tough opponent, the Nittany Lions beat the Michigan Wolverines just under a month ago, and they boasted the Big 10′s leading passer and receiver heading into Saturday afternoons matchup. The Gophers’ defense was able to limit freshman quartrback Christian Hackenberg to 163 passing yards and zero touchdowns, and they covered the highly touted receiver Allen Robinson well throughout the game, and although he caught seven passes, was limited to just 63 yards receiving.
The toughest challenges for the Gophers lie ahead, as they have an off week coming up, but then must face the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State Spartans to end the regular season. Both the Badgers and Spartans are ranked in the top 25, meaning the Gophers will have to play the same near perfect football they did this weekend if they hope to upset either Big 10 team.
Although there has been plenty of recent success for the Gophers, there are still some key decisions that need to be made, such as if head coach Jerry Kill should return to the sidelines and coach the Gophers for the rest of the season. In recent weeks, it has been defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys who has filled in as the head coach on the sidelines, and given the success of the team during that time, he should remain as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season, and possibly lead the Gophers to their first bowl victory in nearly a decade, which coincidentally came over the now dominant Alabama Crimson Tide.
With their 8-2 record the Gophers are now in second place in the Legends division, which is currently led by the 8-1 Spartans. This puts the Gophers in great position to shakeup the Big 10 come bowl season, as they still have a chance to win the Legends division, putting them in the Big 10 Championship Game, or they could collapse as they normally do against Big 10 competition and allow the Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes to meet in that final Big 10 game.
Everything seems to be coming together for the Gophers this season, and this could finally be the year they turn things around and return to their former glory as a legitimate Big 10 contender, like they were in the early 2000′s when they were led by big-named running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney.