Gophers replay Gophers 42, Rutgers 7

The recap

The offense started slowly against a struggling Rutgers team but finished strong, while the defense has allowed only two touchdowns in the past three games. The Gophers improved to 7-0, 4-0 in the Big Ten, and one of 10 undefeated teams in the FBS. They’re also in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West.

But Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is trying to insulate his team from the possibility of being 8-0 before facing its first ranked opponent of the season, Nov. 9 against Penn State.

“When you’re talking about rankings, and you’re talking about winning, and you’re talking about goals and visions, we’ll talk about all that [Sunday], and we’ll celebrate it,” Fleck said. “ … And then our four walls will get tighter and tighter. Because as the outside noise, no matter what it is, positive or negative, the walls have to be tighter.”

You might have missed

• Cole Kramer plays: The freshman quarterback entered the game, making some handoffs to fellow debutante running back Treyson Potts. Kramer had been competing with fellow freshman Jacob Clark for the backup job, but the Eden Prairie native took the field Saturday ahead of the Texan. “He did a great job being able to execute the offense, to control the huddle,” starter Tanner Morgan assessed. “He didn’t look scared or nervous.”

• Shutout in waiting: The Gophers defense has been close to getting a shutout the past three games. Against Illinois, two turnovers gave the Illini 14 points, while the defense allowed just a field goal. Against Nebraska and this past Saturday at Rutgers, the Gophers conceded only fourth-quarter touchdowns in each. The team hasn’t shut out any opponent since 2006 and not a conference foe since 2004.

• Antoine Winfield Jr.’s impact: The sophomore safety made two interceptions Saturday, including one for a 33-yard touchdown return. He and senior linebacker Kamal Martin have been the best defensive players this season. But with Martin leaving the Rutgers game early because of an apparent knee injury, Winfield might have to make even more game-changing plays. His 40 tackles are second on the team to Martin’s 46.

Up next: vs. Maryland

2:30 p.m. Saturday, TCF Bank Stadium TV (radio): ESPN (100.3-FM)

The skinny: Maryland started its first year under coach Mike Locksley looking dominant in two big wins, including one against a then-ranked Syracuse. But the running game couldn’t quite keep up with that pace, and the Terrapins are now 3-4 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten.

They’re coming off 34-28 loss to Indiana. Maryland’s offense is still powerful, as it averages 36.8 points and 439 yards per game, but the team was without its top quarterback, Josh Jackson, and top running back Anthony McFarland Jr., against Indiana because of injuries. Running back Javon Leake and backup Tyrrell Pigrome stepped up in their places. The Gophers, though, are pretty familiar with playing against backups this season.

The Gophers already have avenged two bad losses from a year ago, beating Illinois and Nebraska in recent weeks. Maryland is next on tap; the Gophers lost 42-13 to the Terrapins in their 2018 Big Ten opener. Winfield also has a personal barrier to overcome; he has endured season-ending injuries against Maryland the past two years.

MEGAN RYAN