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MINNEAPOLIS — Greg Mabin knew pretty quickly what was about to happen.
Minnesota was in the midst of its longest drive of Saturday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium, what ended up being a nine-play, 70-yard drive that started with 1:26 remaining. Iowa had held the home team to 198 total yards.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had already thrown Mabin’s way that drive, a play that was initially ruled an incompletion, but was changed to a 21-yard pass to Rashad Still.
The Hawkeyes defense had forced four three-and-outs and a turnover in the five previous possessions, but had allowed the Gophers to get to the Iowa 18 yard-line. On fourth down, with the game on the line, Mabin knew.
And he was ready. He broke up Leidner’s would-be-game-tying-touchdown pass in the direction of Brian Smith, and the Hawkeyes left Minneapolis with Floyd of Rosedale and a 14-7 victory.
“It helped that it was fourth and long, so that made coverage a little bit easier,” Mabin said. “Once I saw the No. 2 guy going in motion to the other side of the field and they had me one-on-one, I knew the ball was coming my way.”
Mabin saw the ball a ton that drive, including the aforementioned overturned completion and a forced fumble at midfield that was initially ruled an incompletion in the direction of Still. But after a review, it was ruled Still caught the ball and then had a fumble forced by Mabin. It ended up being an unfortunate turn for Iowa, which gave up a first down on the play.
But Mabin, who has seen the ball come his way a ton this season, was able to shake off those plays and focus for the final, do-or-die defensive stand.
He read the play and leaned on instincts and technique he’d used many times before in situations like that one.
“I just tried to stand my ground,” Mabin said. “We were in the red zone, so I just try to play underneath when we’re in there. He made a cut to the inside, I was still underneath and then he broke to the pylon, so I knew the ball had to be coming out soon. I just tried to read the receiver’s eyes and make a play on the ball.”
It might not have been the most important play or the play that defined the win, but it certainly sealed the victory for the Hawkeyes — a win they desperately needed.
After some rough games earlier this year, Mabin said he felt a mix of joy and relief in being the one to make the play when it counted on Saturday.
“Definitely, a lot of relief,” Mabin said. “It was a lot of fighting, a lot of grinding, a lot of adversity, but at the end of the day we came out on top.”
OUT OF RHYTHM
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner had a record of success against Iowa coming into Saturday.
The senior threw for four touchdowns in the 2014 blowout at TCF Bank Stadium, and was 19 of 27 for 259 yards and one touchdown in last season’s 40-35 Hawkeye victory. This season, he’d thrown for 840 yards and five touchdowns on 62.9 percent completion through four games.
That made Iowa holding him to 13 of 33 completions for 166 yards and two interceptions both vital and impressive. The Hawkeyes saw Leidner look shakier as the game went, a victim of some drops by his receivers and a much-improved Iowa pass rush and run defense. If not for the Gophers’ final, 70-yard drive, Leidner’s stat line would’ve been even worse. Before that drive, he was 9 of 24 for 91 yards and those two picks.
Defensive back Greg Mabin said the defense changed their keys to what Leidner and the Minnesota offense were showing them.
“I could sense he was getting a little bit rattled because they’re a run-first team and they weren’t really executing their run game as they’re really accustomed to,” Mabin said. “We had a couple adjustments we would make to certain formations or what we thought was going to come — just getting the right personnel and the right play calls out there. The coaches called a great game. The players went out there and we executed our game plan the best we could.”
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