Rodney Smith

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No. 20 Iowa hands No. 8 Minnesota first loss of the season

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It has been said hopes and dreams can go to Kinnick Stadium and never walk out. While that may be a bit of an overstatement for this particular situation, Kinnick Stadium did put bruise up another Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff hopeful’s season. No. 20 Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) was the first team to hand No. 8 Minnesota (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) a loss this season with a 23-19 victory Saturday in Iowa City.

Iowa led Minnesota 20-6 at halftime but managed just one field goal in the fourth quarter to extend its lead to 10 points midway through the quarter. The field goal by Keith Duncan came at the end of a 10-play drive that killed off a little more than four minutes of precious game time. Minnesota’s chance to make things a one-possession game on the ensuing drive looked good when Rodney Smith crossed the goal line late in the fourth quarter, but a missed extra-point attempt by Brock Walker kept things just out of reach for the Gophers.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, however. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for 368 yards and a touchdown, with Tyler Johnson hauling in nine passes for 170 yards. Rashod Bateman had six catches for 98 yards. Iowa’s Nate Stanley passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the win. AJ Epenesa led a ferocious defensive attack for Iowa that gave up some plays in the second half but slammed the door shut on the Gophers when it mattered the most. Epenesa had a game that reminded those watching just why he is one of the top defensive linemen in the nation.

In the grand scheme of things, Minnesota still has a path to its first Big Ten championship game. And if Minnesota does reach the championship game with just one loss, a victory in the conference championship game (against Ohio State or Penn State) would make for a strong case at the end of the season worth discussing for the College Football Playoff. But for now, PJ Fleck and his program must deal with rebounding after their first loss since Nov. 17, 2018 (Northwestern, 24-14).

Iowa will be home again next week to face Illinois. The Illini have already clinched bowl eligibility, so next week’s game could be more about jockeying for bowl position in the Big Ten bowl pool with neither team in the running for the division. Minnesota will play at Northwestern next week for a great opportunity for a rebound win. The Wildcats have won just two games all season, with their second coming earlier in the day with a blowout of UMass.

Minnesota still owns a one-game lead in the division ahead of Wisconsin. It is possible the division championship will be on the line in the regular-season finale between Minnesota and Wisconsin, a game won by the Gophers last season.

Minnesota is 8-0 for first time since 1941, two games up in B1G West

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For the first time since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, No. 17 Minnesota is 8-0. The Golden Gophers polished off their latest victory to get out to its best start since winning the national championship in 1941 with a pounding of Maryland Saturday afternoon, 52-10.

Minnesota just seems to be getting stronger and stronger as the season plays on, and Saturday at home against Maryland was a matchup nightmare for the Terrapins. Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan had a couple of touchdown passes and Rodney Smith rushed for 103 yards. Seth Green scored twice on the ground. Maryland’s offense was no match for a Minnesota team that arguably played its finest game of the season. Coney Durr and Antoine Winfield Jr. each picked off a pass by Maryland quarterback Tyrell Pigrome, who was later replaced by Josh Jackson. Maryland managed just two third-down conversions and 210 yards as Minnesota jumped on them early and never let up.

Next up for Minnesota is its biggest challenge yet. After getting a bye week next week, Minnesota will host No. 8 Penn State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) on Nov. 9. Penn State also improved its record to 8-0 on Saturday afternoon at the same time.

The showdown between Big Ten undefeated teams should make for quite a scene for the Gophers program as they continue to grow, or row, their way to a Big Ten West title that is becoming more and more realistic by the week. Minnesota now owns a two-game lead in the loss column in the Big Ten West standings after Wisconsin lost earlier in the day at Ohio State. Minnesota’s November is a tall order though with games against Penn State, at Iowa, at Northwestern and home against Wisconsin to close out the regular season. Minnesota’s biggest challenges are to come, but they have an incredible path to the Big Ten championship game all under their control.

What once seemed like a potential season of promise for Maryland has now turned into one which will see the Terrapins scrambling for bowl eligibility. And it’s an uphill battle to get there. Maryland will host Michigan next week and then play at Ohio State the week after that. For bowl eligibility to remain in play, Maryland must win one of those two games.

Doak Walker Award releases 2019 watch list

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On Tuesday, we admired the Davey O’Brien Award’s restraint when it came to its watch list. The reason we did that was evident Wednesday, when the Doak Walker Award dropped its watch list.

A whopping 71 players are on alert to be proclaimed the nation’s top running back, compared to yesterday’s 30 quarterbacks. Basically — with one notable exception — if you’ve got a clear starter, he made the list.

The notable exception? Kansas’ Pooka Williams, perhaps because the selectors are concerned that missing the Indiana State game will hurt his numbers that badly.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor won the honor in 2018 and he’s back to defend it this year, which would make him the third player in the 30-year history of the award to repeat, joining Texas’ Ricky Williams (1997-98) and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (2006-07). Taylor is the fourth Badger to win the Doak Walker, following Ron Dayne (1999), Montee Ball (2012) and Melvin Gordon (2014).

In addition to Taylor, returning finalist Travis Etienne (Clemson) made the list, alongside 2018 semifinalists Eno Benjamin (Arizona State), AJ Dillon (Boston College) and JJ Taylor (Arizona).

Ten semifinalists will be named in November, and three finalists will be announced Nov. 20. The winner will be named during the college football awards show on Dec. 12.

The full watch list is below:

Cam Akers, Florida State
Darius Anderson, TCU
Jafar Armstrong, Notre Dame
LaVante Bellamy, Western Michigan
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Max Borghi, Washington State
Isaiah Bowser, Northwestern
Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas
Darius Bradwell, Tulane
Shamari Brooks, Tulsa
Spencer Brown, UAB
Brittain Brown, Duke
Cade Carney, Wake Forest
Michael Carter, North Carolina
Ty Chandler, Tennessee
Andrew Clair, Bowling Green
Jashaun Corbin, Texas A&M
Reggie Corbin, Illinois
AJ Dillon, Boston College
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Travis Dye, Oregon
Travis Etienne , Clemson
Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
Dayton Furuta, Hawaii
Tre Harbison, Northern Illinois
Najee Harris, Alabama
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Jerry Howard, Jr., Georgia Tech
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota
Keaontay Ingram, Texas
Deon Jackson, Duke
Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State
Tony Jones, Jr., Notre Dame
Lopini Katoa, BYU
Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Bryant Koback, Toledo
Benny LeMay, Charlotte
Vavae Malepeai, USC
Kam Martin, Auburn
Jordan Mason, Georgia Tech
Greg McCrae, UCF
Anthony McFarland, Jr., Maryland
Tra Minter, South Alabama
Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
Marcel Murray, Arkansas State
Moe Neal, Syracuse
Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
Lamical Perine, Florida
Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss
Trey Ragas, Louisiana
Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State
Larry Rountree III, Missouri
Mekhi Sargent, Iowa
Cameron Scarlett, Stanford
Stevie Scott III, Indiana
BJ Smith, Troy
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Kesean Strong, Old Dominion
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Toa Taua, Nevada
Corey Taylor II, Tulsa
J.J. Taylor, Arizona
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Patrick Taylor, Memphis
DeAndre Torrey, North Texas
Breck Turner, Eastern Michigan
KeShawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
CJ Verdell, Oregon
Quardraiz Wadley, UTEP
Michael Warren II, Cincinnati
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas

Minnesota DB Antoine Winfield, Jr. to miss remainder of season with foot injury

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For the second year in a row, Antoine Winfield, Jr.‘s season ends just four games after it started.

After appearing in 12 games and starting nine as a true freshman in 2016, Winfield was lost for the year four games into his sophomore campaign of 2017. He obtained a hardship waiver to play this season as a redshirt sophomore, but now will miss the rest of the season to a foot injury suffered in a 42-13 loss to Maryland on Saturday.

He will undergo surgery on Monday.

In a statement announcing the injury, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck announced the Gophers will pursue another hardship waiver for Winfield, meaning he would be a fourth-year sophomore in 2019 if approved.

Winfield is the second Gopher to be lost for the season, following running back Rodney Smith.

“We are heartbroken for Antoine,” Fleck said. “Like Rodney Smith, I know he will keep his oar in the water, keep moving forward and will work tirelessly to return to the field next season. We believe Antoine meets the waiver requirement for a sixth year of eligibility and we will file that waiver with the NCAA at the conclusion of the season.”

Winfield led all Gophers defensive backs with 17 tackles on the year while tying for the team lead with one interception. He was also the team’s punt returner, notching a 76-yard score in a 48-10 win over New Mexico State on Sept. 1 and a 31-yard return in a 26-3 defeat of Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 15.

Minnesota (3-1) is off Saturday before visiting Iowa on Oct. 6

Minnesota RB Rodney Smith lost for year to knee injury

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Minnesota running back Rodney Smith will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a knee jury against Fresno State, the program announced Monday.

“I am devastated for Rodney, but I know he will keep his oar in the water and continue to move forward and attack his rehabilitation process,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “He is a leader on this team and I look forward to him working with our young players as we continue to grow this season.”

A senior from Jonesboro, Ga., Smith entered the season ranking fifth in Gophers history in career carries (651) and seventh in yards (2,959). He earned the Bronko Nagurski Award as the team’s MVP in 2017 after carrying 299 times for 977 yards and three touchdowns. Smith was also named MVP of Minnesota’s 2016 Holiday Bowl win over Washington State, rushing 17 times for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Smith was off to a promising start to his senior campaign, rushing 24 times for 153 yards in a 48-10 win over New Mexico State last Thursday. He carried one time for one yard in Saturday’s game with Fresno State. Smith was injured on the third play of the game after catching an 11-yard screen pass and remained on the turf after being tackled.

Minnesota went on to win the game, 21-14.

Smith has already used his redshirt season, but Fleck said Monday that Minnesota will apply for a waiver to get its running back a sixth season.

With Smith out, Minnesota figures to turn a pair of freshmen — Bryce Williams and Mohamed Ibrahim — to carry the load at running back.