When the Gophers are operating at peak efficiency, coach P.J. Fleck points to the complementary football that the team is playing.
It starts with the offense running the ball effectively, setting up the passing game to keep the defense honest, all the while marching methodically down the field. With long drives, the Gophers offense keeps its defense on the sideline and, more importantly, the opponent's defense on the field, where it continues to absorb body blows from Minnesota's offensive line.
When Minnesota's defense has its turn on the field, its goal is to quickly get back on the sideline by forcing a three-and-out against an opponent that's suddenly desperate on offense because it's trailing by a touchdown or two.
Rinse, spin, repeat.
That formula worked wonders Saturday when the Gophers went into Spartan Stadium, quickly took a 17-point lead and left with a 34-7 humbling of Michigan State, an 11-win squad last year. A day later, pollsters noticed and put the 4-0 Gophers at No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 23 in the USA Today/AFCA coaches poll.
"The offense is just running our offense, taking what the defense gives you,'' Fleck said Monday. "Everything's setting up one or the other.''
That success is showing up in national statistics and by those who analyze the game, though it should be noted that the Gophers' first three games were against teams that are a combined 1-12 this season.
Morgan and Co. on a roll
Quarterback Tanner Morgan was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, after completing 23 of 26 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns at Michigan State. With him leading the way, the Gophers rank third among the nation's 131 FBS teams in total offense at 543 yards per game and 11th in scoring offense at 48.5 points per game.
Dig a little deeper and you'll find Minnesota's offense leads the country with a 78.9% (41-for-52) third-down conversion rate, the best by 12 percentage points.
"We were operating fantastic,'' Morgan said. "We were executing. I'm really proud of how hard our guys played."
Reunited with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, Morgan is thriving. His QB rating of 198.14 is fourth nationally, his completion percentage (77.2) is second and his yards per attempt (11.2) is third. Pro Football Focus College, which does a deep dive in player analysis, ranks Morgan as its top QB in the country.
Complementing Morgan's passing has been a Gophers run game that ranks second with 294.5 yards per game and leads major college football with 41 rushes of 10 yards or longer.
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim ranks second with 141.8 yards per game and is tied for second with 12.0 points per game. He has 19 runs of 10 or more yards, also ranking second. PFF is high on Ibrahim, too, ranking him fifth nationally.
Paving the way for Ibrahim and protecting Morgan is a Gophers offensive line led by center John Michael Schmitz, ranked No. 1 by PFF. Guard Nathan Boe is No. 2 but with limited snaps, while guard Chuck Filiaga is ranked No. 19.
Tight ends Brevyn Spann-Ford (second) and Nick Kallerup (eighth) rank highly with the PFF evaluators, too.
Against Michigan State, the Gophers had clock-draining scoring drives of 75, 77, 90 and 75 yards, and it's no surprise Minnesota leads the nation in time of possession at 40 minutes, 34.75 seconds, nearly 4 minutes ahead of No. 2 Air Force.
An efficient defense, too
The Gophers defense has benefited to the point that it leads the nation in total defense, allowing 187.8 yards per game. Minnesota is the only team to hold opponents to less than 200 per game.
It doesn't stop there. The Gophers are second in scoring defense (6.0 points allowed per game) and passing defense (126.0) and third in rushing defense (61.8). On third-down conversions, they've allowed only six of 42 attempts for a nation's-best 14.29%, which is 4 percentage points better than Alabama.
"Be efficient,'' Fleck said. "That's what this team has done up to this point, just be efficient.''
With everyone on offense and defense getting in on the action, who's missing out on the fun?
That would be punter Marc Crawford, who's been called on only three times, the fewest by any starter in the nation.