With today's win over Penn State, Minnesota has won four consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 1973. This is the earliest in the season the Gophers have reached eight wins since 2003 and the second earliest since the last year the Gophers won a National Championship in 1960. There have been a lot of firsts for this year's Gophers squad and that is not a fluke. Yes, the Gophers were not tested in a very weak non-conference schedule and yes, the Big Ten teams the Gophers have amassed the four game winning streak against aren't exactly lighting the world on fire, but the Gophers are winning games they've found ways to lose in the past.
The ending of Indiana was a prime example of this, but I would argue that the Penn State game adds more fuel to that fire. After the Gopher's jumped out to a 10-0 lead (much like Nebraska did to the Gophers), Penn State marched their way in for an easy score. In the past, the Gophers have let things snowball after a drive like that, but instead of getting down on themselves, the Gophers did something they haven't done with regularity in my lifetime, they fought back. They didn't just fight back. They won and easily.
The defense allowed just three more points despite letting the Penn State running back's shred them for 5.3 yards per carry. The Gophers were fortunate to recover two very costly Penn State fumbles, one coming on the first play of the game and another as Penn State was about to make it a one touchdown game. While the Gophers generally haven't gotten those types of breaks against quality opponents the Gophers also faced some difficult field position throughout the game.
On the Gophers second drive of the game, following a three and out on the previous possession, the Gophers started at the four yard line and proceeded to drive the ball 96 yards for a touchdown.
The Gophers were also 9/17 on third down's today, something the Gopher's have traditionally struggled mightily with. An even bigger struggle for the Gophers historically has been third down defense but today the Gopher's allowed just one conversion on nine third down attempts by Penn State. Yes, they were going up against a true freshman QB, albeit a very talented one. But the Gopher's got the job done when it mattered and that's something they've struggled with in the past.
Things get significantly tougher from here for the Gophers as they host the hated Wisconsin Badgers, who the Gophers have dropped nine straight games to, then they must travel to East Lansing and face off against one of the best defenses in the country against the Michigan State Spartans. Things don't figure to get much easier come bowl season as the Gophers have played their way into a likely quality bowl game, potentially even a New Year's Day bowl game.
Even if the Gophers do end up at 8-5 after the 8-2 start the future is still looking bright in what is increasingly being referred to as Jerrysota, at least by the student section. Why are things looking so bright? Because this team that is doing so many things for the first time in a long time, loses just three contributors on offense in seniors Ed Olson, Derrick Engel, and Mike Henry and lose just five starters on defense albeit those losses will hurt more, especially at OLB and DT where the Gophers lose Aaron Hill (came up with the clinching fumble recovery agaisnt IU), James Manuel (who had a fumble recovery today), and of course Rashede Hageman as well as Roland Johnson.
Brice Marich also contributed to this report