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Minnesota Football vs Rutgers: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

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A successful business trip to Piscataway for the Gophers

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers returned from the program’s first trip to Piscataway with a 42-7 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, preserving their undefeated season for another week and improving to 7-0 for the first time in 59 years.

It was not a perfect game by any stretch, but there was a lot to like.

The Elite

The Gopher defense. It may not be that impressive of a performance when you consider the opponent, but credit Minnesota for taking care of business against a bad Rutgers offense. I’m annoyed that the second-string defense allowed the Scarlet Knights to score, but I suppose there are greater tragedies in life. The Gophers held Rutgers scoreless through three quarters as they built an insurmountable 42-0 lead. When all was said and done, the Scarlet Knights finished the game with 189 total yards of offense — 107 of those yards came on their last two possessions, once Minnesota had pulled most of their starters — and three turnovers.

Antoine Winfield Jr. The man responsible for two of those three turnovers was none other than Antoine Winfield Jr. The first was a diving interception on an overthrown pass by Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan on the game’s opening possession. When the Gopher offense failed to convert that turnover into points, Winfield took matters into his own hands. His second interception of the game was a pick six near the start of the fourth quarter.

Rodney Smith. The Gophers’ offensive line struggled for much of the game, but Rodney Smith made the best of what he had to work with. The senior running back served as the spark on offense for Minnesota, rushing for 111 yards on 19 carries and scoring two touchdowns.

Tyler Johnson. The senior wide receiver recorded 100 yards receiving for the second consecutive game, hauling in six receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown. Johnson set a school record for most career games with at least 100 yards receiving, and is now second all-time among Minnesota wide receivers with 26 career touchdowns.

Another highlight reel catch for Rashod Bateman. A routine catch for the Gophers’ sophomore wide receiver, who finished the game with four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Casey O’Brien. If you’re unfamiliar with his story — first of all, shame on you — College GameDay aired a segment a few weeks back detailing his battles with cancer. The redshirt sophomore cancer survivor was inserted as placeholder for the Gophers’ final three point after attempts of the game and was mobbed by his teammates after the first extra point, before sharing an emotional moment on the sideline with head coach P.J. Fleck.

The Gophers are 7-0 for the first time since 1960. And with the Fighting Illini’s 24-23 upset of Wisconsin, Minnesota now stands alone atop the Big Ten West. Soak it up.

The Meh

Tanner Morgan. The Gophers’ redshirt sophomore quarterback did not have the best first half. He made some questionable decisions and his footwork was a mess at times, leading his accuracy to be all over the place. But Morgan seemed to settle down in the locker room at halftime, opening the half by leading Minnesota down the field on a methodical 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. In the first two quarters, he was 10-of-22 for 130 yards and one touchdown, but in the second half Morgan was a much improved 5-of-6 for 115 yards and one touchdown.

The Ugly

The injury to Kamal Martin. If there is one player Minnesota can’t afford to lose on defense, it is Kamal Martin. He has arguably been their best defender through the first six games of the season. The senior linebacker suffered an apparent knee injury in the third quarter and had to be helped off the field before a cart came to take him from the medical tent to the locker room. No word yet on the severity of his injury — Fleck told KFAN’s Justin Gaard after the game that Martin was “walking a little bit” — but if he is out for even a few games, let alone the rest of the season, the Gophers will have to ask a lot of sophomore Mariano Sori-Marin and redshirt freshman Braelen Oliver.

Special teams. This season has been a reminder that the Gophers may have been spoiled the past several years in terms of kicking. Grant Ryerse was only able to get touchbacks on four of his seven kickoffs, and one of the returns went for 37 yards thanks to sloppy tackling. But the more glaring issue might be with true freshman kicker Michael Lantz. Lantz missed a 33-yard field goal attempt near the end of the first half, dropping him to 4-of-7 on field goal attempts this season.

The officiating crew. The Rutgers secondary made it clear early on that their plan was to be physical in pass coverage with Minnesota’s wide receivers, daring the officiating crew to call defensive pass interference. But I’m not entirely sure even a single member of the officiating crew truly grasped the concept of defensive pass interference. To their credit, this lack of understanding extended to both teams, but it was frustrating, nonetheless.