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Gophers one upset away from bowl game

A week after suffering a 33-10 loss at Michigan, the Gophers played their best game of the P.J. Fleck era with a stunning 54-21 victory over Nebraska. The 54 points were the most points scored by Minnesota against a Big Ten opponent since 2006.

The Gophers (5-5, 2-5) are one win away from becoming bowl eligible.

"It was the execution," Fleck said. "It looked like we were more experienced than we really are. It looked like we've been doing it for a long time. That's what was different about last week. That was the first time all year we played a complete game. That's what it's supposed to look like."

After allowing Michigan's Karan Higdon to run for 200 yards and Chris Evans' for 191 yards, the Gophers' defense took a rest. Led by quarterback Demry Croft, the Gophers racked up 514 yards of total offense, including 409 yards rushing. They tallied 311 total yards in the first half to seize a 30-14 lead.

"Demry did a tremendous job running the offense," Fleck said.

Croft's solid game is a plus, considering the Gophers close out the regular season at No. 25 Northwestern (7-3, 5-2) and against No 8 Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0). Croft opened up the floodgates with a 73-yard touchdown run to finish with 183 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

"We needed to start fast," Fleck said. "We talked in the locker room that the two teams are 4-5, it's a big game for both of them. Whoever strikes first, you can take the spirit out of somebody else."

Minnesota's strong rushing performance is a good sign heading into two of its toughest games of the season. Northwestern won three straight overtime games and enters Saturday's contest with five wins in row. Aided by a strong defense ranked 62nd in the country in total defense, the Wildcats are allowing 388 yards per game and also rank 39th in scoring defense (23 points per game).

After an up-and-down season in which he was suspended, Croft, who was named the Big Ten co-offensive player of the week, is playing with more confidence, Fleck said.

"You can see the difference in his demeanor," Fleck said. "You see the difference in his pocket presence."


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