The 7-3 Vikings have six games remaining and appear likely to earn their way into the playoffs. There will be a number of storylines in the weeks ahead but among individual players none is likely to be more compelling than the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy, now a pro football analyst for NBC TV, is tossing a challenge at the $84 million leader of the Vikings offense.
Speaking on KFAN Radio last week with program host Dan Barreiro, Dungy predicted the weeks ahead will define the reputation of Minnesota’s 31-year-old quarterback who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for his successful October that included 10 touchdown passes and a QB rating of 137.1.
“I like Kirk Cousins a lot, and I think he’s tremendous,” Dungy said. “I think he is a great leader but this is going to be the referendum (the weeks ahead). This is when he’s going to have to do it, against the Packers, against the Cowboys, in these big games. We know he’s capable of doing it. We saw it through the month of October but now can you do it in November and December against the really good teams? And that’s where the jury is still out on him.”
The Vikings earned a meaningful road win against a winning team last Sunday when they defeated the Cowboys, 28-24. Dungy predicted last Thursday the game would be a “measuring stick” for Cousins, playing against a solid team using a stop the run defense and inviting him to throw the ball about 35 times. Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Vikings assistant coach, was almost spot-on with Cousins throwing 32 times, and completing 23 passes including two that went for touchdowns.
Cousins came to Minneapolis in the 2018 offseason with a well-known reputation for not leading his former team, the Redskins, to victories over clubs with winning records. The chorus of critics grew louder last season when the Vikings, viewed during preseason as a Super Bowl contender, didn’t make it to the playoffs.
This season the Vikings have played five teams who now have winning records. They have defeated the Cowboys, Eagles, and Raiders while losing road games to the Chiefs and Packers. On the schedule ahead only the Seahawks and Packers (rematch game December 23 in Minneapolis) have winning records among remaining opponents.
Cousins has a 112 passer rating that is third best in the NFL. He has no turnovers in his last four games, the longest such stretch of his career. When he has faltered in the past, including against winning teams, he has looked indecisive. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the change in his quarterback. “Yeah, he’s playing fast, and that’s probably the most important thing,” Zimmer said. “Making good decisions and playing fast.”
The right decisions are everything in the NFL where final margins of victory are often so close. Eleven of the 13 most recent league games were separated by one possession (eight points or fewer). In 36 games this season, a team has won or tied after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Golden Gophers Football Notes
It would be fitting if the weather was stormy for Saturday’s game in Iowa City when the Gophers and Hawkeyes play. Temperatures will be in the low 40s with precipitation unlikely, but that doesn’t change the colorful and at times contentious history of the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry.
In the spring of 2017 Iowa assistant coach Brian Ferentz said it appeared the Gophers were extending so many offers to high school prospects they couldn’t come close to honoring them. Ferentz’s comments came on a Des Moines Register podcast. It’s unusual for one school to call out another that way.
In 2002 Hawkeye fans stormed the field at the Metrodome after a Hawkeye win. Fans tore down a goal post and tried to take part of it through the Metrodome revolving doors but space was too limited to accomplish the mission.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz coached in that game and is still leading the Hawkeyes. “I do have a good friend that still thinks that’s the greatest thing he ever saw in sports,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “He saw it on TV, and he also said, your fans aren’t very smart, they’re not going to get that thing through a revolving door. But he still talks about that.”
Tensions between players and fans from both Iowa and Minnesota prompted creation of Floyd of Rosedale. At the suggestion of Minnesota governor Floyd Olson, the bronze pig was created in the 1930s to put the focus on the rivalry trophy instead of the bad feelings between the two states.
Creative Charters emailed that their motorcoach group will be stopping Friday in Floyd, Iowa at Dugan’s Restaurant and Tavern on the way to Iowa City. The mayor of Floyd and city council members have been invited to lunch with the Minnesotans.
“With the Floyd of Rosedale trophy on the line, it only makes sense to stop in Floyd” said Steve Erban, Creative Charters, “We haven’t won in Iowa since 1999. The Travelin’ Gophers need to pull out every stop.”
With a win Saturday, Iowa can move within one victory of tying the Floyd of Rosedale series since it began in 1935. The Hawks have won six of the last seven games but Minnesota still leads the series 42-40, with two ties.
For Gophers fans, that’s close enough for the Hawkeyes in moving ahead in the series. That could become a social media message this week, tossed in with more than a few “We hate Iowa” postings.
The Gophers’ recent woes in the series have come despite the annual ritual of Darrell Thompson consuming large amounts of bacon. During Iowa week Thompson, the Gophers all-time leading rushing leader, enjoys his bacon.
“Every day, my man,” Thompson told Sports Headliners Wednesday. “I had bacon pie this morning. My wife made me this phenomenal bacon pie.”
The pie has a pecan crust and includes eggs, onions, peppers, cheese, and of course, bacon. Thompson put away two pieces, and wrote about the pie on Twitter.
What about the four-game losing streak against Iowa, despite Thompson’s bacon ritual? “That’s why I am eating more bacon this year,” he said. “I’ve increased it. Yesterday (Tuesday) I had two side orders of bacon. I didn’t think I was eating quite enough. Sometimes more makes things better.”
The Gophers go into Saturday’s game 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten games, with Iowa at 6-3 and 3-3. Minnesota’s most recent win, coming last Saturday in an upset over then No. 5 nationally ranked Penn State, attracted 6,736,000 viewers on ABC TV, according to Sports Media. It was the network’s largest college football audience in three years for a noon (eastern time) game.
Enjoy a Tuesday notes column including news from Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck about senior linebacker Kamal Martin, one of the team’s best players who was held out of last Saturday’s Penn State game because of an undisclosed injury.
Fleck said on KFAN Radio this afternoon that Martin came to him after warm-ups prior to the game and announced he was playing. Martin badly wanted to be on the field but Fleck told him there is a lot of football remaining this fall and it was best that the future pro sit out the game.
“Had a great day at practice today,” Fleck said of Martin. “Looked really good.”
Fanduel.com has Iowa (6-3 and 3-3) as a surprise three point favorite over Minnesota (9-0 and 6-0) for Saturday’s game in Iowa City.
In Minnesota’s six Big Ten Conference games the Gophers have been behind only about 11 minutes (10:35).
With a sellout crowd of 51,883 announced for last Saturday’s dramatic Penn State game, and with over 40,000 expected for the season’s final home game against Wisconsin November 30, the Gophers are certain to average more in attendance per game than last year’s 37,915. That’s the lowest season average in TCF Bank Stadium history (opened in 2009).
This afternoon at the stadium Fleck will present a ceremonial game ball from the Penn State game to Governor Tim Walz who will accept it on behalf of the state of Minnesota.
Fleck is the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week for Minnesota’s upset 31-26 win over nationally ranked Penn State.
The Nittany Lions came into the game ranked No. 5 in the country, with Minnesota No. 13 in the Associated Press poll. Coach James Franklin is now 1-7 against nationally ranked teams on the road at PSU, per the Big Ten Network.
The Gophers learn tonight on ESPN how far they have moved up from No. 17 in the latest College Football Playoffs rankings. It should be a big jump because Penn State was No. 4 last week.
The Capital Club will hear from new University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel Wednesday, November 20 at Town & Country Club. More information about the club is available from Patrick Klinger, email@example.com.
Familiar Arizona Coyotes names at Xcel Energy Center Thursday night will include former Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, ex-Gopher forward Phil Kessel, and assistant coach Phil Housley, a native of South Saint Paul.
The Wild is 14-4-3 in its last 21 games against the Coyotes, including a win in Arizona last Saturday. Minnesota is 5-1-2 in the last eight games with Arizona played at Xcel Energy Center.
Because the Timberwolves revamped their offensive and defensive schemes for this season, they are drawing more early season attention from NBA scouts than in the past under coach Tom Thibodeau. An NBA insider praised new coach Ryan Saunders.
“Ryan has done a phenomenal job of getting guys in the right frame of mind,” the source said. “Things were so negative in the past.”
Scouts caution the teams they work for to be alert against the fast tempo Wolves, with defenders needing to get back down the floor in a hurry, guard the three-point line, and defend any open shooter standing behind the arc. “Their offense is predicated on the three-point shot, and (also) the shot close to the basket,” the source said.
Rookie Jarrett Culver, 20, has potential to be one of the team’s best three-point shooters. “He is talented. I am kind of excited to see his development,” said the insider who has watched the Wolves early season games.
The Timberwolves’ record so far is 6-4 including wins over struggling teams. The opinion here is Minnesota doesn’t have enough talent to win beyond 35 or 40 games during the 82-game schedule.
It was 30 years ago last week the expansion Timberwolves played their first ever regular season game in the Metrodome, losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls before an announced crowd of 35,427. The Wolves went on to set a single season NBA attendance record of 1,072,572.
A prominent but now retired former Minnesota high school football coach predicts these schools will emerge as 2019 state champions: 6A Wayzata; 5A Chaska; 4A Hutchinson; 3A Pierz; 2A Caledonia; 1A BOLD; 9-Man, Hancock.
As usual, the most attractive U men’s basketball nonconference opponents won’t be coming to Williams Arena. The Gophers played Oklahoma last Saturday night in Sioux Falls, with games this week at Butler (tonight) and Utah (Friday). In late December coach Richard Pitino’s team is at Oklahoma State, while the best of the nonconference opponents, DePaul and Clemson, come to Minneapolis November 29 and December 2.
Tickets for DePaul and Clemson are priced at $15 to $50, while Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin prices are $45 to $90, per Gophersports.com.
Zach Edey, the over 7-foot Canadian prep center the Gophers were pursuing, has verbally committed to Purdue. The early period for Division I basketball signings is November 13-20.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported a few days ago that Prior Lake power forward Dawson Garcia, who the Gophers want, recently visited Marquette for a second time.
Nate Reuvers, the 6-11 Wisconsin junior forward from Lakeville North, averaged 18 points, 10 points and 6.5 blocks in a pair of games for the Badgers last week and yesterday was announced as the Big Ten Player of the Week.
The Twins will hear from starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi this week whether he is accepting their one-year qualifying offer of $17.8 million.
With four-fifths of the starting rotation to be determined between now and next season, there will be plenty of offseason Twins news. There are other questions, too, including who will be the starting outfielders on opening day. Will Byron Buxton’s September wrist surgery allow him to be in the lineup? Will Eddie Rosario be traded for starting pitching?
Likely roster locks for opening day include starter Jose Berrios, reliever Taylor Rogers, DH Nelson Cruz, catcher Mitch Garver, second baseman Luis Arraez, shortstop Jorge Polanco, third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Max Kepler who will be in his native Germany this month promoting baseball.
The 22-year-old Arraez led the club with a 334 batting average in 2019, his rookie season, and he drew comparisons to former Twins second baseman Rod Carew. Hall of Famer Carew hit .292 his rookie season of 1967 when he was 21 years old. Similarities between the two left-handed hitters include peek-a-boo batting stances and hitting the ball to all fields.
Rosters expand from 25 to 26 through August 31 of next year with a cap of 28 through the last month of the season.
Coach P.J. Fleck’s University of Minnesota team made a dramatic statement to the college football world Saturday when the No. 13 ranked Golden Gophers upset No. 5 Penn State in Minneapolis. Minnesota’s 31-26 win over the Nittany Lions came in a game the Gophers controlled, and the outcome moved the program to heavyweight status among Power Five Conferences.
The 9-0 Gophers are deserving of a top 10 national ranking by the major polls including the Associated Press. With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, the school that has won nine consecutive games for the first time since 1904 now deserves that kind of attention.
For years the program that often didn’t seem to know how to spell R-e-s-p-e-c-t, now has earned it. Can we all spell C-r-e-d-i-b-i-l-i-t-y?
It will be interesting to see how far Minnesota advances in the College Football Playoff Rankings this week. The Gophers are one of only five undefeated Power Five teams remaining in college football. Last week Minnesota was ranked No. 17 in the CFP listings.
Fleck, the third-year coach who was doubted and mocked by the local citizenry and media, has a team that is not only surprisingly undefeated but improving every week. Already among the favorites to win national coach of the year awards, Fleck could be the honoree if Minnesota can sweep its last three games. In yesterday’s game at least two Gophers added to their profiles for earning national honors after the season. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman was unstoppable, coming up with 203 yards in receptions, while Gopher safety Antoine Winfield Jr. had two timely interceptions.
The potential is there for Minnesota to win its first ever Big Ten West Division championship. The 6-0 (league games) Gophers are being chased by 4-2 Wisconsin and 3-3 Iowa, and maybe 4-3 upstart Illinois. Minnesota’s remaining regular season schedule is at Iowa next Saturday, at Northwestern (0-7) November 23 and then home on November 30 versus Wisconsin.
Minnesota hasn’t defeated Iowa and Wisconsin in the same season since 1990. The Gophers haven’t won a game in Iowa City since 1999. Minnesota has won 11 consecutive games dating back to 2018 when the Fleckers defeated Wisconsin in the last regular season game and Georgia Tech in a bowl game, and now on November 30 the Gophers could beat Bucky in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1993-1994.
The list of implications that came out of yesterday’s mega win is long and includes the prospect of Minnesota advancing to the Big Ten title game next month and playing competitively against Ohio State, viewed as the best team in the country by those who put out the College Football Playoff Rankings. A 12-0 record going into Indianapolis to play the Buckeyes could put Minnesota into the driver’s seat for the program’s first Rose Bowl invite since 1962. That kind of success would be an eye-opener for impressionable high quality recruits around the country who are likely to think about grabbing an “oar” and heading to Minneapolis.
The most optimistic of fans—and some are probably still partying after yesterday’s program turning win—are chortling that the Gophers are contenders to earn their way to the four-team playoffs. In an improbable season, those in the Optimists Hall of Fame are thinking bigger than I am.
Make no mistake, though, the Gophers are likely to sustain success this season. They might lose a couple of games in a closing stretch against the top-25 Hawkeyes and Badgers. A string of unfortunate injuries to Minnesota’s best playmakers could spoil the fun in the games ahead, but so many good things are already in place with more coming.
The Gophers are headed to a credible, if not prestigious, bowl game—see you later Motown. Ticket sales will increase next year, and should be jumping for the home finale to keep possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Fleck’s getting love from fans and learned yesterday he can have a happy football marriage in this on and off the bandwagon town. Athletic director Mark Coyle has already won his presentation to the U Board of Regents next month when he asks for formal approval of the coach’s new seven-year extension.
Donation checks should be on the upswing to the Athletic Department and the University. A Rose Bowl win will goose donations like it did years ago when bottom feeders Big Ten Wisconsin and Northwestern rose up and said, “Pasadena here we come.”
Are you listening T. Denny Sanford?
Hey, Lee Corso, you listen up too. Before Saturday’s game the confident Corso said this about Penn State on ESPN College GameDay: “They’re gonna sink that Minnesota boat.”
Nope. Yesterday the Gophers bagged a Nittany Lion.