The last time Minnesota won four consecutive Big Ten football games, acting head coach Tracy Claeys was 4 years old. It was 1973.
The Gophers — winners currently over Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana in succession — can get to four in a row Saturday at home against Penn State.
“It just shows the progress we are making,” Claeys said Tuesday. “We're trying to establish new standards here. I didn't realize that. That's pretty amazing. Also says the Big Ten is a tough conference.”
Claeys continues to coach on the field and handle media duties while head coach Jerry Kill, rebounding from his latest epileptic complication, works from the press box.
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But Kill did meet with Minnesota beat writers Sunday for the first time in six weeks. A victory for the Gophers (7-2, 3-2) over Penn State would produce the school's highest win total since a 10-win season under Glen Mason in 2003.
“We're playing for something in November, and we're playing at home, which is even better,” Kill told the writers. “I'm happy for our fans, but by gosh, we need everybody right now.
“We need a packed house, and we need our players to be hungry.”
Players of the week
Offense: Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson and Penn State tailback Bill Belton. Nelson, a sophomore from Mankato, Minn., had 309 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in a win over Indiana. Belton, a junior from Sicklerville, N.J., had a career-high 201 yards rushing and one touchdown in a win over Illinois.
Defense: Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen. The senior from Hamilton, Ohio, had two sacks, three tackles for loss and nine tackles overall in a win over Michigan.
Special teams: Minnesota punter Peter Mortell. The sophomore from Green Bay, Wis., averaged 43 yards a punt and had two downed inside the 20 in a win over Indiana.
Freshman: Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp. The Lombard, Ill., product had four catches for 104 yards, including a 49-yarder on the final play of a win over Northwestern.
Stat of the week
Michigan State hasn't allowed a touchdown in its past three games. “In this age of modern day football,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said, “you just don't see that very often.”
Quote of the week
Michigan State wide receiver Bennie Fowler, on celebrating the win over Michigan:
“With how excited everybody was in the locker room, you could tell how much this meant. But we haven't beaten Nebraska in the Big Ten since they've been there. We owe them.”
Bits and pieces
Ľ Northwestern running back Venric Mark (ankle) still wants to play this season, coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. Still, applying for a hardship season is possible if the senior's health doesn't allow him to come back.
Ľ Northwestern has a bye this week. If the Wildcats had a game, Fitzgerald said, 13 key players would be out and seven others would be limited because of injury.
Ľ Ohio State running back Jordan Hall is week to week with chronic knee problems. He didn't play last week.
Ľ Dantonio said he accepts the apology of Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan for twisting the facemask of MSU's Isaiah Lewis in the bottom of pile last Saturday.
Ľ Nelson, despite suffering a hip pointer in Minnesota's win at Indiana, is expected to play Saturday.