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Gophers football: Eagan's Conor Rhoda is 'class act' after demotion

Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Conor Rhoda (15) drops back for a pass in the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans Oct. 14 at TCF Bank Stadium. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — While the end of Conor Rhoda's college football career is imminent and he hasn't played in weeks, the fifth-year senior from Eagan hasn't lamented or withdrawn himself after losing the Gophers' starting quarterback job.

Once Demry Croft took over full time during the 24-17 victory over Illinois on Oct. 21, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck called Rhoda "a class act" for his response to the switch.

"Very mature about it," Fleck said Tuesday, Oct. 31. "And I have seen zero change in a negative way toward Conor's leadership. If anything, he's taken it, and it's made him grow."

Rhoda, who attended Cretin-Derham Hall, completed 54 percent of his passes for 839 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions in six starts this season. The former walk-on, who started one game prior to this year, won the job outright with his leadership and mistake-free play through the 48-14 win over Oregon State on Sept. 9.

Rhoda's errors and turnovers, especially in or near the red zone, contributed to the Gophers' switch during Big Ten play, as did Demry Croft, who returned from a three-week suspension, to throw three touchdowns late in the 30-27 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 14.

"(Rhoda is) one play away from playing again," if Croft is injured, Fleck said. "And I'm not saying I won't play him the rest of the year at some point. So he's always ready."

Offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Kirk Ciarrocca has seen Rhoda's willingness to help Croft during practices and in the QB meeting room.

"He's a special young man," Ciarrocca said. "He is going to be really successful in his life and career, and you're going to be lucky if he lives in your community someday because he's going to bring a lot of great things to it."

Dearth of D-backs

The Gophers have played 11 defensive backs this season, with only one (safety Jacob Huff) appearing in all eight games. Two true freshmen have seen bigger roles in recent games — cornerback Justus Harris and safety Ken Handy-Holly.

"It's been great to have those guys get some quality football reps," defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. "That is going to bode well for us in the future. But we have a lot of seniors on this football team (so) we're not so much concerned about the future, right? It's going to help us down there, but we want to play well and play well right now."

The Gophers rank 25th in the nation with 184 passing yards allowed per game this season.

Ferentz apologizes

Iowa's first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz apologized for his profanity-filled outburst toward the officials' replay booth at halftime of the Hawkeyes' 17-10 victory over Minnesota on Saturday. He was upset about a reviewed fumble call against the Hawkeyes in the second quarter.

"I have sent a letter of apology to the replay official and have assured our head coach and athletic director I will hold myself to a higher level of professionalism," Ferentz, the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, said in a statement.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta did not specify the disciplinary action taken, but said, "We have completed our process and consider the incident resolved."


Gophers senior punter Ryan Santoson was named Tuesday as a candidate for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation's best collegiate punter. He is averaging 43.7 yards per punt this season, which would set a new program record for a senior. Peter Mortell had a 43.4 average in 2015. ... Gophers guard Garrison Wright has been playing hurt, Ciarrocca said. "But he loves playing and he loves his teammates and he loves the University of Minnesota."