Hlas: Strange and sort of ugly, but Iowa survives against Minnesota

Iowa's finally on good side of a 17-10 game

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IOWA CITY — Were you not entertained, Iowa Hawkeye football fans?

OK, maybe not a lot. But enough, right? Right?

Iowa’s 17-10 victory over Minnesota was Big Ten West football at its Westiest Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. It was Iowa’s third 17-10 game in the last four weeks, but the first of the trio it got right.

Like the other two, losses at Michigan State and Northwestern, this affair often felt it like it had the entertainment value of waiting for a streetlight to change.

The Hawkeyes “opened” a 17-7 lead on a Miguel Recinos field goal with 5:34 left. It felt like an insurmountable margin the way Minnesota’s offense had been performing. Until, that is, Demry Croft threw a 63-yard pass to Tyler Johnson to the Iowa 15 on the Gophers’ next play.

Minnesota had been passing-challenged until that moment. And were again so immediately thereafter. Three straight incompletions followed the long pass, the Gophers settled for a field goal, and were totally ineffective when they got the ball one again for one last futile possession.

Iowa defensive tackle Anthony Nelson finished off Minnesota with a sack of Croft, who hit on just 9 of 29 passes. Which actually was four more completions than he had the game before in a slog of a win over Illinois.

So, it may have been a semi-offensive display of offense (Iowa had 315 yards, Minnesota 281), but a win is a win is a win. A 5-3 record looks so much better than 4-4 for the Hawkeyes, especially with big boys Ohio State and Wisconsin on the docket the next two weeks.

We should have known weirdness would be afoot in Kinnick this night when Iowa issued a news release Friday announcing its restrictions on those who chose to attend the game in Halloween costumes.

It wasn’t as if fans were planning to come with paper bags over their heads to make a statement about Iowa’s recent offensive woes. Although, there may have been times during this game when they wish they had.

Offensively, much of the contest felt like a midnight walk through a cemetery without a flashlight. It had been easy to forget Iowa did go 80 yards in five plays on its first possession of the game, looking like a brand-new offense with a brand-new offensive philosophy.

But for most of the rest of the game? It was mostly things that go bump in the night.

However, Minnesota was even less effective with the ball. It reached the red zone on two straight first-quarter drives, but was stopped on downs on the first and picked off by Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase on the other.

Gervase played the carom caused by Iowa junior cornerback Josh Jackson, who had another collection of fine plays this game. Jackson has football chops.

The Hawkeyes’ 7-0 halftime lead could have been larger, even though they had four 3-and-outs and a crazy interception that bounced off receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette into the hands of Gopher safety Jacob Huff on a well-thrown deep pass by Nate Stanley.

Iowa’s first-half lead could have been bigger, but ... running back James Butler, a welcomed returnee to duty after missing four games to injury, caught a pass on 3rd-and-12 in the last minute of the half. Elbow brace and all, he got first-down yardage and kept driving.

The play netted 19 yards and got to the Minnesota 21 when it was done, but after a long replay review, it was ruled Butler had the ball stripped away before he was down.

The half ended moments later. On his way from the coaches’ booth to the press box elevator in the earshot of dozens of people with a wide variety of duties at the game, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz shouted obscenities -- presumably about the fumble ruling -- that wouldn’t be tolerated in most coffee shops or cathedrals.

What were the words he used? Find a Richard Pryor or George Carlin stand-up comedy video of yore and choose the bluest ones. You got the distinct opinion the coach was irritated with the press box replay official.

Kirk Ferentz addressed the incident after the game without being prompted. From the sound of his comments, the first conversation he would have with his son about it was likely to be icy.

It surely has been a frustrating last month for the Hawkeyes’ first-year OC, with his unit unable to crack 10 points in two of the last three games and 19 points in four of the last five. Whether he heard the occasional murmuring and muttering from the stands about some of his play-calls during the game is unknown.

But Iowa did have an explosive moment that was good, a difference-maker as it turned out.

Tight end Noah Fant, whose fourth-down drop of a highly catchable pass in overtime ended Iowa’s 17-10 loss at Northwestern the week before, hauled in a gorgeous 45-yard touchdown throw from Stanley for a touchdown on the Hawkeyes’ first possession after halftime.

“Noah is a tough matchup,” Kirk Ferentz said after the game.

Fant has a team-high five TD catches. The sophomore will make up for the Northwestern bobble many times over before he’s done here.

A giddy Fant made a rowing gesture immediately after he scored, a recognition of sorts of Minnesota’s program. “Row the Boat” is the Gophers’ motto, odd as it may be for a football program.

Noah and a boat, after one of the relatively few big offensive plays over 60 minutes. Strange game indeed.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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