The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

November 16, 2013

Gophers riding some rare momentum

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jerry Kill pushed his way through the jumping, swaying and shouting mass of players circled in the Minnesota locker room, finding space in the middle of the crowd so he could get down with some dance moves of his own.

The Gophers had plenty to celebrate after beating Penn State last Saturday, and their coach had just as much fun. One month ago, his ability to handle this demanding job was in question after a fifth day-of-game seizure in three seasons. The Gophers were blown out that afternoon at Michigan, and a glance then at their schedule suggested little hope for a turnaround.

Well, that's where they're headed now after winning their fourth straight Big Ten contest, a same-year first for this once-woebegone program since 1973. Minnesota (8-2, 4-2 in Big Ten) has also reached its most wins since 2003.

The Gophers have daunting matchups left against Wisconsin and at Michigan State, but they could find themselves playing on New Year's Day. That hasn't happened since they won the Rose Bowl in 1962.

"I didn't know if we could move quite this quick, but I think that's a credit to our staff and our players. On the inside — it's sometimes hard to see on the outside — we knew we were getting better," Kill said.

The Gophers are averaging 30.7 points and 218.5 yards rushing per game. They've converted 11 of 14 fourth downs, the best rate in the conference. Of the 32 times their offense has reached the opponent's 20-yard line or closer, they've scored on 31, including 24 touchdowns. The red zone defense has been stellar, too, allowing points on 28 of 37 opportunities for a Big Ten-leading percentage of 75.7, with four turnovers forced.

Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson has made significant strides toward balancing the attack with precise, timely completions up and down the field. Senior Brock Vereen has helped stabilize an injury-affected secondary by switching from safety to cornerback.

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