While Saturday's weather was pleasantly warm for late October, the Gophers' play remained red hot as they defeated Maryland 52-10 to remain undefeated.
Minnesota out-gained Maryland 498-210 in total yards as the Gophers improved to 8-0. With the result, they have now outscored their last four opponents 168-41. With the hardest part of their schedule still ahead, Minnesota wasn't looking past the opponent in front of them.
"Really proud of our football program," said head coach P.J. Fleck. "They're 1-0 in the Maryland championship season. That's all they worked on, all they wanted to do. There's no such thing as trap games, there's no such thing as momentum."
On the game's second play from scrimmage, safety Antoine Winfield Jr.'s team-leading fifth interception of the season set the offense up at the Maryland 20-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback Tanner Morgan connected with receiver Rashod Bateman for a touchdown.
"It was huge," Morgan said of Winfield's interception. "It gave us great field position to go out there and start 7-0. Antoine just finds the ball, it's crazy. He's like a magnet, he's always around the football."
The Gophers quickly extended their lead to 21 points, scoring touchdowns on their next two possessions. Redshirt junior Seth Green powered through the Maryland defense for a 10-yard touchdown run and Morgan then hit senior Tyler Johnson in stride for a 16-yard score. By the time Minnesota had built the 21-0 advantage, Maryland had only managed 24 yards of offense.
"Start fast, accelerate in the middle, finish strong, that's what we have to do no matter the circumstance," Morgan said. "So to come out swinging like that was huge for us."
On Minnesota's next offensive drive, Maryland forced a three-and-out and a short punt from redshirt senior Jacob Herbers set the Terrapins with good field position. Tasked with keeping Maryland from getting back into the game, the Gophers defense came through in a big way. Cornerback Coney Durr intercepted a mishandled third-down pass and returned it 72 yards to the end zone, making the score 28-0 with 3:41 left in the first half.
"I was excited for him, real excited," Winfield said of Durr. "It was just great that he was able to make that play."
After half time, Minnesota's offense continued to control the game with two long drives, maintaining possession for 12:44 in the third quarter. The Gophers scored 10 points on those drives, including a one-yard touchdown plunge from redshirt senior Rodney Smith.
"I thought we controlled the game in terms of our time management," Fleck said. "43 minutes to 17, that's Golden Gopher football."
The touchdown held special significance for Smith, as he passed Darrell Thompson on the play for most career all-purpose yards in Minnesota history, with 5,110. Smith made more history on the day. His 103 rushing yards on the afternoon moving into third place on the school's all-time rushing list. Saturday marked his fifth consecutive game surpassing 100 rushing yards.
"To be at the top means a lot to me," Smith said. "I'm thankful to everybody who helped me attain that goal. All of my coaches, all of my teammates, the entire staff here at the university, professors. Just everybody that's helped me along the way, I really appreciate it."
Minnesota's other backs also had strong days on the ground as the team finished the game with 321 rushing yards. Green reached the end zone twice and he, redshirt senior Shannon Brooks and redshirt sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim all averaged over five yards per carry.
The victory extended Minnesota's win streak to 10 games, dating back to last season. It also sets up a very important matchup on Nov. 9 with also-undefeated No. 6 Penn State. Leading up to that contest, Fleck told his team to appreciate the moment, but not to lose focus on the task ahead.
"The dream is the journey," Fleck said. "You have to enjoy it being smart. That was my last message to [the players]. We have a very special thing going, make sure we do the right things. Have fun, celebrate, but do the right thing."