Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan (2), wide receiver Demetrius Douglas (82), and wide receiver Tyler Johnson (6) congratulate running back Rodney Smith (1) on his touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Sarah Stier)

FOOTBALL
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — No. 20 Minnesota won its first game as a ranked team in five years and suddenly it has the lead in the West Division and a clear path to the Big Ten title game .

It all fell into place Saturday as Rodney Smith ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns and the Gophers improved to 7-0 for the first time since winning the national title in 1960 with a 42-7 victory over Rutgers on Saturday.

Coupled with Illinois’ stunning last-second victory over No. 6 Wisconsin, Minnesota (7-0, 4-0) has a one-game over the Badgers (6-1, 3-1) in the division and control over its destiny.

The path is not going to be easy. After facing Maryland (3-4) next weekend, the Gophers get a bye and then face No. 7 Penn State, No. 23 Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin in the regular-season finale.

“They’ve been very mature during this whole process,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “It’s my job to keep them grounded and focused. Today we’re 1-0 in the Rutgers football championship. That’s all that matters.”

Minnesota struggled against Rutgers in the first half before scoring four touchdowns in the second, including one by the defense.

Smith scored on runs of 3 and 16 yards and Tanner Morgan threw two touchdowns as the Gophers won their ninth straight game spanning two seasons. Rutgers (1-6, 0-5) lost its fifth consecutive loss overall and 17th straight in the Big Ten Conference.

The nine-game winning streak is the Gophers’ longest since 1941-42.

Morgan gave much of the credit for the offense’s success to his skill players, the runners who can go inside or outside and his receivers, who can beat double coverages.

“Coach (Fleck) has done a great job of preparing us and not allowing us to look ahead,” said Morgan, who was 15 of 28 for 245 yards.

The Gophers blew the game open in the fourth quarter, when Mohamed Ibrahim had a 6-yard TD run and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. scored on a 33-yard interception return on consecutive plays on offense. Morgan threw his second TD, a 56-yard pass to Tyler Johnson that could have been viewed as rubbing it in against a beaten foe.

Rutgers interim coach Nunzio Campanile had no problem with the late TD, saying it was up to his team to prevent it.

There was a tender moment after the Ibrahim touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Casey O’Brien, a four-time cancer survivor, was sent out to hold the ball for the extra point by kicker Michael Lantz. He was mobbed by teammates after the kick.

Rutgers avoided its fourth shutout in a Big Ten game this season when Kay’Ron Adams scored on a 5-yard run with 5:33 to play.

“We have a lot of a long way to go, but like I keep saying, I just want this team to be, those players to be better players by the time we get to the end of the year,” Campanile said.

The Scarlet Knights’ score prevented Minnesota from picking up its first shutout since 2006 and first in a league game since 2004.

The Scarlet Knights came into the game as 29 1/2-point underdogs and made the Gophers sweat a little. Smith didn’t get Minnesota on the scoreboard until late in the first quarter with his short run and Morgan had a 13-yard TD pass to Rashod Bateman with less than five minutes left in the half. Smith scored from 16 yards out on the opening series of the second half for a 21-0 lead.

Rutgers, which is using its third quarterback in a season marked by the firing of Chris Ash after the fourth game, was outgained 443-197. Johnny Langan was 9 of 19 for 48 yards and three interceptions, two by Winfield.

“It is frustrating at times, but Coach (Campanile) really does a good job of keeping us looking forward to games ahead because it’s another opportunity for us to possible get a win,” said Rutgers linebacker Deion Jennings, who had eight tackles, including three for losses, in his first start.

THE TAKEAWAY

Minnesota: The Gophers stay undefeated, face inconsistent Maryland at home next week and then get a week off before Penn State.

Rutgers: Rutgers put up a good effort on defense until late. The positive is that next week is a winnable game.

UP NEXT
Minnesota: Hosts Maryland next Saturday.


VOLLEYBALL

Friday
MINNEAPOLIS – The No. 7 University of Minnesota volleyball team earned a 3-0 win over Northwestern at Maturi Pavilion on Friday. With the win, the Golden Gophers improve to 12-3 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten. Northwestern falls to 9-10 overall and 0-7 in conference play.

Stephanie Samedy led the Gophers with 10 kills. She hit a season-best .474 and added three digs and a block. Alexis Hart offered up seven kills, two blocks and two digs. Taylor Morgan had six kills, hitting .500, as well as four blocks. Regan Pittman had six kills, two digs and a team-best five blocks. Airi Miyabe had a season-best six kills and four blocks, as well as one dig. Adanna Rollins offered up five kills, 14 digs, one block and one ace. Bayley McMenimen had 20 assists and one ace, and Kylie Miller had 14 assists in her first game back with the Gophers. CC McGraw added a match-best 16 digs and one ace.

As a team, Minnesota had match bests 41 kills, 48 digs, nine blocks and hit .351. Northwestern had 33 kills, 42 digs, 2.5 blocks and hit .098.


WOMEN’S HOCKEY
MINNEAPOLIS — Emily Brown scored two goals to lead the No. 2 University of Minnesota women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over St. Cloud State at Ridder Arena on Sunday afternoon. The Gophers picked up a sweep on the weekend and improved to 8-0-0 on the year with the win.

Minnesota (8-0-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) was led by Brown’s two-goal effort; the Gophers also received two points each from Taylor Heise (1g-1a) and Emily Oden (2a), and Catie Skaja rounded out the scoring. Sydney Scobee made 13 saves as the Maroon & Gold had a 40-15 advantage in shots on goal.

St. Cloud State (2-3-0, 0-3-0 WCHA) received a 36-save effort from goaltender Janine Alder and goals from Dana Rasmussen and Abby Thiessen.

Saturday
MINNEAPOLIS — Sydney Scobee earned a 21-save shutout and Grace Zumwinkle led the way with three points as the No. 2 University of Minnesota women’s hockey team returned to WCHA play with a 3-0 win over St. Cloud State on Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena.

Zumwinkle’s three points came on one goal and two assists, and Minnesota (7-0-0, 3-0-0 WCHA) also received goals from Alex Woken and Olivia Knowles. The line of Woken, Zumwinkle, and Taylor Heise combined for a pair of first-period goals as the Gophers took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, and the Maroon & Gold extended the lead to three on Knowles’ second-period tally.

Scobee’s shutout performance marked her second of the season and seventh of her career. Minnesota outshot the visitors 28-21 for the game, and St. Cloud State (2-3-0, 0-3-0 WCHA) received 25 saves from goaltender Emma Polusny.


MEN’S HOCKEY

Friday
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Sammy Walker scored 46 seconds into overtime as the Gopher men’s hockey program picked up a 3-2 overtime win over Niagara on Saturday in the 2019-20 home opener at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Sampo Ranta and Jonny Sorenson also scored for Minnesota (2-1-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) while Jack LaFontaine picked up his first win with the Maroon & Gold.

After nearly 40 minutes of scoreless hockey to open the game, Niagara (0-1-0, 0-0-0 Atlantic Hockey) found the net at 19:37 of the second period off the stick of Jack Billings. The Gophers bounced back early in the third with two goals just over a minute apart from Ranta at 5:53 on the power play and Sorenson at 6:58. The lead would not last however as Cam Cook evened things up at 8:05 of the third period.

Walker sent the Gopher fans home happy on the only shot on goal in the added session, scoring the game-winning tally for his second goal in as many games for Minnesota.

Saturday
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Four different Minnesota skaters found the net as the Gopher men’s hockey program picked up a 4-2 win over Niagara on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci, picking up the program’s first sweep of the season in its second series and first on home ice.

The Gophers (3-1-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) picked up goals from Sammy Walker, Brannon McManus, Nathan Burke and Scott Reedy while Jared Moe improved to 2-0-0 in goal for the Maroon & Gold, making 20 saves on 22 shots.

Walker and McManus had a team-high two points as both forwards also picked up assists on Burke’s eventual game-winning goal in the third period after the duo scored just over a minute apart in the second period. Reedy added an unassisted, empty-net tally in the final minute of regulation to seal the sweep for the home squad.

Niagara (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Atlantic Hockey) scored in the opening minute of play from Dylan Mills before evening the game at 2-2 early in the third period with a goal from Reed Robinson.

Minnesota, which outshot the Purple Eagles 30-22 on the night, went 2-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. The Maroon & Gold have not allowed a power-play goal in three-straight games since the season opener at Colorado College.

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