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IOWA CITY — The job for Iowa’s football defense Saturday is to turn water into ice.
That shouldn’t be hard, you say, given the temperature is expected to dip near single-digits as the 3 p.m. Iowa-Minnesota Big Ten West title-elimination bout in Minneapolis nears its end.
But it isn’t that kind of water. We’re talking about Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Let Iowa defensive tackle Logan Lee explain how Hawkeyes defensive line coach Jay Niemann described the 3-time 1,000-yard rusher.
“Coach Niemann said it yesterday.” Lee said. “He’s like water. He will always find the crack.
“He just does a great job of being able to see the open space and be able to attack that space.”
Rarely is a path to victory as clearly defined as it will be for Iowa Saturday. Stop Ibrahim. Especially if senior quarterback Tanner Morgan again can’t play because of an upper-body injury.
Freshman replacement Athan Kaliakmanis has completed 46.5 percent of his passes. Morgan has hit on 67.3 percent.
Ibrahim has a rather remarkable streak of 18 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, with 23 in his 4,264-yard career. The last nine of those came after he tore an ACL last September. He’s a ballplayer.
“He runs hard, has got really, really quick, fast cuts,” said Iowa linebacker Seth Benson.
“His cutting ability, getting downhill, his physical style of running kind of sets him apart from a lot of other guys in my opinion,” Hawkeye linebacker Jack Campbell said.
“It’s his yards after contact,” said Iowa cornerback Riley Moss. “He’s a strong guy. He’s built, but not a Braelon Allen-type of guy. He’s not tall, but that doesn’t really matter because he’s tougher than nails.”
“He’s been here in the Big Ten a while,” Lee said, “so he knows how Big Ten football is. He’s been in these cold games and I bet he embraces it as well, he knows he’s going to get the ball a lot and he’s going to have to put the team on his back and get rolling.”
“I respect him,” said Moss.
“The dude’s a great running back,” said Lee.
“The guy’s a winner,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
OK, OK. Now here’s the other side of the prehistoric type of game most are expecting in the Great White North: All the quoted players here are great players, too, and Iowa’s defense is as good as any Minnesota has faced and vastly superior to most.
Illinois is right there with the Hawkeyes defensively. When the Gophers played the Illini last month, they lost 26-14 and gained just 180 yards. Ibrahim got his 127 rushing yards that day, but the Gophers’ passing game was rendered useless.
The Hawkeyes know what’s it like to play against premier running backs. They should be voters for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top RB.
Iowa has faced the nation’s No. 2 rusher, Chase Brown of Illinois, No. 5 Blake Corum of Michigan, and No. 18 Braelon Allen of Wisconsin. Allen dropped down the list a bit because he was limited to 40 yards on 17 carries last Saturday in Iowa’s 24-10 win over the Badgers.
Brown got 146 and Corum 133 against the Hawkeyes, and their teams won those games.
“We’ve faced some dudes,” Moss said. “Now that you bring that up, I didn’t realize the amount of dudes. We’ve played some dudes.”
Dudes recognize dudes. Iowa has allowed 2.55 yards per rush, second in the nation. The 3.8 yards per play it has surrendered not only leads the country, but is on pace to be the lowest total by any defense since Alabama in 2011.
The Hawkeyes got gouged by Corum and Brown. Allen, who came in with at least 113 yards in each of his previous four games, was repeatedly reached behind or at the line of scrimmage.
What did Iowa’s defense learn between the Michigan and Illinois games of Oct. 1 and 8 and the Wisconsin game a month later?
“I’ve learned that I feel I can compete at the highest level,” Campbell said. “I’ve learned that our defense can compete at the highest level.”
Today’s obligatory reference to Floyd of Rosedale: Iowa’s defense needs to be as accommodating to Ibrahim as a hog on ice. The less accommodating, the better.
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