Sid Hartman
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The Gophers football team is 2 minutes and 27 seconds away from being 6-1 and qualified for a bowl invitation already.

The Gophers gave up the game-winning score to Maryland with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter, and the game-winning score against Purdue with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter.

So coach P.J. Fleck talked about how important it was for his team to get a win over Illinois last weekend in another tight contest.

“It’s important because it’s the next game,” Fleck said. “You always prepare every single week like you’re going to go out there and win. We’ve been in a lot of close games this year, especially in conference, and every game we’ve had in conference has come down to the last minute.”

Fleck has verified that Demry Croft is going to get another chance to start Saturday at Iowa, even though he completed just five of 15 passes for 47 yards against Illinois.

When asked what he saw in the game film on Croft’s performance, Fleck said the sophomore quarterback was moving too fast.

“He was really jumpy in the pocket,” Fleck said. “It’s kind of like a thoroughbred when you get him in the chutes and before they start he’s kind of jumping around in there and comes out of the shoot and he’s all over the place.

“We have to get his feet settled down. When his feet are quiet he’s a really, really talented quarterback. When his feet are loud or active that’s when you struggle with accuracy.”

Scouting the Hawks

When it came to scouting Iowa, Fleck had this to say about the Hawkeyes, who have won four of the past five contests for Floyd of Rosedale.

“They’re very good, very tough on defense, they keep everything in front of them,” said Fleck. “It is hard to take big shots over the top and score quickly versus Iowa. They make you put 12-, 14-play drives together to score. Their offense obviously is known for running that read zone play and running the football. I think they rushed for 89 yards against Northwestern, so I know Kirk Ferentz is going to want them to rush the ball for a lot more. Typical Iowa, they’re tough and they run the ball and they are good on defense.”

And on one last topic, Fleck took time to praise the work of Norries Wilson, the Gophers offensive lineman from 1983-86 who held various coaching jobs since then and is now the director of player development for the Gophers.

“I had a player development job where somebody has to know the University of Minnesota for our players, take care of our players that way, have a lot of connections with the university, somebody the players could always go to if they had an issue,” Fleck said. “Norries Wilson fit the description perfectly. He’s one of the best people I have ever met. I really, really like Norries. He has really made a difference in our culture in Year One. He’s really made a difference in our players’ lives.”

McKinnon adapts

Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon had a career high in carries, yards, pass receptions and receiving yards last season, but he still fell into a backup role behind rookie to Dalvin Cook to start the season.

But McKinnon has always embraced whatever role the Vikings give him, and now that he’s in a starring role, alongside Latavius Murray, he knows how important he is to the offense.

“Me and Latavius we got to take off where Dalvin stopped,” McKinnon said. “He came on real fast, real hot, so you know it’s just about keeping that thing going and being consistent in the running game. The offensive line has done a great job, and we just have to continue to build on that.”

When McKinnon joined the Vikings as a fourth-round pick in 2014, he was coming out of an option offense at Georgia Southern, where he had been recruited as a quarterback.

“My coaches, [running backs coach] Kevin Stefanski last year, Adrian [Peterson] all of those guys really made it easy on me and helped me understand the game from a true running back standpoint,” he said. “Then [current running backs] Coach P [Kennedy Polamalu] worked on Latavius and Dalvin and he played the position for a long time, I just come with the mind-set to get better and learn something every day.”

McKinnon said he got some extra help from Peterson when he trained with him this offseason in Texas.

“It’s a tough regimen down there,” he said. “Lot of explosive work, you know, a lot of uphill running and stuff like that. A lot of long hour days and a lot of work put into it. I’m thankful to Adrian for inviting me down there and letting me get some good work in with him in the offseason.

McKinnon already has tied his career high in touchdowns with two this season, and his 58-yard run is the longest on the team.

The Vikings are rushing for 4.3 yards per carry, compared to 3.2 last season, and he said that the offensive line has been instrumental all season.

“First of all, those guys are healthy,” he said. “I think it’s the right mix of guys. Those guys go really well together, and I think that’s why we’re rocking with those five guys. We just have to continue to get better every day.”

Jottings

• The Gophers have had 11 different secondary members play this season, with seven of them underclassman. One of the big leaders has been senior Kunle Ayinde, who has moved from safety to cornerback because of the injuries that have hit that unit. Ayinde had 30 tackles, three pass deflections and one interception on the season.

• ESPN writer Dan Graziano wrote this week that the Vikings are now the NFC North favorites. “This is a team that knows how to win with defense and a slow-down, don’t-mess-it-up offensive game plan. ... Make this team the clear favorite in the NFC North from here on out.”

• The Timberwolves have had two bad back-to-back performances in losses to Indiana and Detroit, but at 2-3 they are still outpacing their 1-4 start last season when they lost to Memphis, Sacramento, Denver and Oklahoma City and beat Memphis at home. Still it’s a letdown after starting 2-1.

• The Vikings still seem to lack a truly popular NFL player as the league released its top 50 jerseys in sales and Stefon Diggs was the lone Viking to place on the list, at No. 36.

Derek Hitchner , a junior at Blake in Minneapolis, been named an honorable mention Rolex Junior All-America by the American Junior Golf Association. Hitchner has verbally committed to play at Pepperdine.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. shartman@startribune.com