Minnesota will get to do something new on Saturday. The Golden Gophers will show everyone how they respond to a loss.
The Gophers’ dream season took its first hit with a 23-19 loss at Iowa last weekend. The Gophers (9-1 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) slid from No. 8 to No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings but they still lead Wisconsin by a game in the West Division standings.
Minnesota plays at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., this Saturday before a home showdown with the Badgers in the regular-season finale. The Gophers will get another opportunity to win their seventh Big Ten game, something they’ve never accomplished.
“They’re disappointed. Everybody’s disappointed with the loss,” coach P.J. Fleck said. “If they weren’t disappointed I’d worry. But it was one game. … We came in Sunday and showed them everything that’s ahead of them, as we normally do. And they flipped the switch like that. This is a very mature group.”
After defeating then-No. 4 Penn State 31-26 the previous week, the Gophers were held to 63 yards rushing on 30 carries and failed to create a turnover on defense against the Hawkeyes.
“This team is learning how to play championship football in November,” Fleck said.
“We haven’t been in this position in a long time. This team is learning how to do it. We beat a top 4 team and then played a top 20 team on the road that has defeated a lot of top 10 teams at Kinnick Stadium. As bad as we played, according to our standards, we still had a chance to win the game in our last possession.”
The big concern now for the Gophers is the health of quarterback Tanner Morgan, who suffered a concussion late in the game. A decision on his availability was expected late in the week.
Morgan has thrown for 707 yards in the last two games. He has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 2,468 yards and 22 touchdowns against only four interceptions this season.
If he’s unable to play, Fleck will have to choose between two freshmen, Jacob Clark or Cole Kramer, to fill in.
“Whoever plays better in practice, if it comes down to it,” Fleck said of how he’d select a quarterback if Morgan’s out.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald believes Morgan has been the key to the Golden Gophers’ success.
“Tanner’s really a tough, physical guy that really puts the ball where it needs to be or throws it away,” he said.
“He really doesn’t do anything to put the offense or the team in jeopardy. … They’re just improved and gotten better but it starts and ends with Tanner. He’s played really outstanding football, as efficient as any quarterback in the country, let alone the Big Ten.”
The Wildcats (2-8, 0-7) are seeking their first Big Ten win in their home finale. They snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 45-6 romp past nonconference foe Massachusetts in their last game.
Freshman Evan Hull fattened his stats with four rushing touchdowns and 220 rushing yards. Northwestern can play a spoiler role on Saturday but Fitzgerald isn’t thinking that way.
“Our focus is on playing our best game of the year,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve done that. I don’t think we did that on Saturday. I’m happy for Minnesota, they’re having a great year but our goal is to go 1-0.”
–Field Level Media