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IOWA CITY — On the field, it once again was a staring contest for Iowa’s offense. Credit where credit is due, though, the Hawkeyes picked things up in the second half and took care of business.
Iowa (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) drove magnificently on its first drive and it almost stood the entire way in the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 victory over Minnesota before 66,292 fans Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
Five plays, 80 yards and around 2 1/2 minutes off the clock. After that, though, it was back to a painfully familiar trudge Iowa’s offense has become. It was five consecutive three-and-outs and none were particularly pretty.
Compounding things was James Butler’s fumble late in the first half. He caught a pass and gained 19 yards to Minnesota’s 21. Butler, seeing his first action since suffering a dislocated elbow on Sept. 16, was caught up in the pile and had the ball pulled out of his arms late.
Iowa coaches disagreed with this call. Vehemently. You saw head coach Kirk Ferentz register displeasure when an FS1 camera caught a bleeper.
As coaches in the press box made their way to the lockerroom for halftime, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz cussed out the Big Ten officials replay booth in the press box. He did it again on his way to the coaches suite for the second half. The Big Ten likely will have a reprimand early this week for Iowa’s 34-year-old first-year offensive coordinator.
The words kind of hung in the air of a generally quiet press box. On the field? No one would’ve heard it. Process this as you will.
“I just learned a little while ago about some inappropriate behavior up in the press box by one of our coaches,” Kirk Ferentz said in the postgame. “I don’t know all of the details at this given point, but what I heard, it’s not acceptable. We’re just not going down that road.
“There’s a certain level of professionalism that you have to operate with. We’ll plan on doing that in the future. In the meantime, we’ll sit down and address this. Find out what the details are. I’m a little sketchy on what all took place, but the bottom line is there’s no room for that. That will be addressed and we’re going to move on.”
There was more to the game than that. Not a lot more, but more.
The Hawkeyes loved their opening script. They won the toss and instead of deferring, they choose to receive.
First down was a 22-yard Nate Stanley-to-T. J. Hockenson pass. Second play was a 25-yard pass to Nick Easley. Third play was just a 5-yarder to tight end Noah Fant. Running back Akrum Wadley for 4 and then for 12 and the TD.
Just that easy. Five plays, 80 yards and just 2:23 off the clock. Suddenly, the 10 whole points Iowa scored in a game and an overtime period last week at Northwestern seemed like a year ago.
But no, it was just last week.
Iowa’s next seven possessions went five punts, interception and the fumble. This would drive even the most mild-mannered offensive coordinator to blue language.
It’s a good thing the Hawkeyes’ defense punched in for another night of putting out fires and, really, keeping it together for this team.
As Iowa was making it rain three-and-outs, Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) built a three-and-out factory, had a very successful IPO and might look to expand its three-and-out franchise in Iowa City.
Before Minnesota scored to make it a 14-7 game with 14:37 left in the fourth quarter, Iowa’s defense held Minnesota to eight punts, a series stopped on downs and an interception (safety Jake Gervase off a tip by cornerback Josh Jackson in Iowa’s end zone).
A little poetic justice shined down on the Hawkeyes. Fant ended last week in a world of hurt after dropping a pass that ended Iowa’s overtime possession and the game at Northwestern.
With 11 minutes left in the third quarter. Stanley threw a moon ball to Fant, who was so wide open he could’ve sent a text waiting for that ball to come down. As you know, Stanley has missed on these all season. This time, he lofted the ball nearly press box high and Fant ran under it for 45 yards and a 14-0 lead.
Fant did a little bit of a “row the boat” impression after the score, obviously referencing Minnesota and head coach P.J. Fleck and that “row the boat” thingie the Gophers do.
“It’s a big game for us, it’s a big game for them, there are a lot of emotions,” Fant said about the celebration. “I know a couple of guys on their team. They know me. They do the thing on the third down stop, I just thought we’d bring a little spice into our game. We got some momentum out of that.”
Iowa’s defense played well enough to make that stand. Minnesota got a 33-yard field goal to make it 17-10 with 4:28 left, this set up by 63-yard pass from QB Demry Croft to wide receiver Tyler Johnson.
Gervase tried to make a play on the ball and . . . whoops.
“I kind of tried to jump and hit the ball,” Gervase said. “If I could do it over again, I would’ve kept running and got a little more depth.”
Johnson kept running. Jackson and safety Amani Hooker finally tracked him down at the Iowa 15.
Jackson tracked just about everything down Saturday night. He entered the game with a Big Ten-high 11 pass breakups and added four more.
The Hawkeyes held the Gophers to 281 yards of total offense. Minnesota averaged just 3.9 yards on 72 plays.
17-10 didn’t work great last week. It probably didn’t feel a whole lot better this week, especially with Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) GPS-ing the charter to Iowa City after an amazing comeback against Penn State.
But those were the Hawkeyes’ 17 points and it was their victory and their walk with the Floyd of Rosedale bronze pig traveling trophy on a beautiful night at Kinnick.
And, you know what? That’ll do for the pig, that’ll do.
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