With a balanced offense and a defense that is winning on third downs consistently, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have risen from Big Ten bottom-feeder to one of the best teams in the conference. Their play has not only put them in position to possibly finish this season with ten wins but also crack the top 25 rankings.
Minnesota held Penn State to 1-9 on third down conversions today and recovered two Nittany Lion fumbles, leading to an 11 minute time of possession advantage. The defensive effort combined with 381 yards of offense nearly evenly split between the run and the pass, led to a 24-10 victory over Penn State, the Gophers’ fourth win in a row.
The improvement that Minnesota has shown hasn’t been any more evident than in the numbers of running back David Cobb. In Minnesota’s two conference losses, Cobb rushed for a combined 42 yards on 15 carries. In the Golden Gophers’ four victories since then, Cobb has amassed 558 yards on 107 attempts. Cobb also found the end zone for the second consecutive game today.
Cobb increasing his average to over five yards per carry, has coincided with an improvement in the efficiency of quarterback Philip Nelson. Nelson has pushed his completion percentage up from 50% to 63% in the last four games and has thrown seven touchdowns to zero interceptions. While Cobb and Nelson have shown Minnesota’s improvement on offense, the progress that the Golden Gophers have made on the defensive side of the ball are just as noteworthy.
In their two conference losses, Minnesota allowed 65 points to be scored. In the four games since, the Golden Gopher defense has limited its opponents to a combined 89 points. The increase in turnovers forced have been a big part of the story. The Golden Gophers are +7 in the turnover margin over the past four weeks. In the previous two, they were -3 in the same category.
Minnesota is winning by executing on both sides of the ball and avoiding mistakes. With several teams in the top 25 having taken a tumble this week, the Golden Gophers are poised to take the place of one of those schools in the new polls.