MINNEAPOLIS — With 228 yards per game on the ground and an offensive line that averaged 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, all signs pointed toward the Minnesota football team running on Iowa early and often.
The Hawkeyes had struggled in run defense the last three weeks in particular, giving up an average of 210 yards per game while going 1-2 in that stretch. Coach Kirk Ferentz and his defensive players all talked about what could or should be done to right the ship.
On Saturday, Iowa found whatever it was it’s been looking for in both the run and pass defense, and rode that to a 14-7 victory to keep the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Iowa City. Minnesota, conversely, was the side left scratching its head and wondering what happened.
“It’s pretty obvious, we got whipped up front,” said Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys. “Our offensive line couldn’t create some space. In pass protection, the pocket was a lot tighter and they got in Mitch (Leidner)’s face without blitzing. Those days you get whipped up front, you don’t have a very good chance.”
Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) had ridden a trio of running backs to success on the ground this season. Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary had all seen success at different points this season, along with Leidner, but were collectively held to 102 yards on 29 carries with a long run of 11 yards.
Considering Iowa (4-2, 2-1) had given up several of those chunk plays in weeks previous, the Gophers’ struggles were particularly frustrating for Claeys and his group.
They had some injury issues, but Claeys refused to use that as an excuse.
“Bottom line, you’ve got to do it,” Claeys said. “We’ve got to find a way to get it done. That’s their job description. We shot ourselves in the foot. … We never did really block them up front much.
“(Iowa) did what they do. They just whipped us up front.”
That last part was a theme among Claeys and his players in regards to the Hawkeyes.
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Iowa won time of possession 34:55 to 25:05 and forced three Minnesota turnovers (and an extra fumble that rolled out of bounds to stay with the Gophers). The Hawkeyes won the field position battle and got Leidner out of his rhythm without throwing hardly any exotic looks his way.
Minnesota lost its second straight Big Ten game it felt like it could’ve won, and Iowa handed it to them in a way the Gophers expect other teams will attempt going forward.
“I think the holes were there (but) maybe try to break more tackles or something like that. We missed a few holes on certain plays. And the ball security thing, we have to do a good job of that,” Brooks said. “I felt great out there, and I know the rest of the backs felt great out there. It’s a physical team, like I said, but a lot of teams are going to play us like that. They know how we run the ball and stuff like that. They’re going to be ready for it, you’ve just got to keep playing hard.”
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