Iowa Football

No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa: The Big Analysis

Cue the Ed Harris speech from 'Apollo 13,' because it's probably going to take something like that

The Iowa Hawkeyes host the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Big Ten football Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)
The Iowa Hawkeyes host the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Big Ten football Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)

Last week, the Big Analysis started with the simple, recent results from the Iowa-Wisconsin series. It’s starting to go Wisconsin’s way.

We toss around the term “little brother” a lot in college football. Of course, it sucks when your team is the target. It just sucks. But hey, you have to give the term credit. It certainly gets everyone’s attention. It probably angers the living daylights out of ... well, everyone who thinks they’re being called “little brother.”

Beyond the emotion, what the term describes is a period of success one program has had over another, specifically rival programs, like ones that started meeting in the 1800s and have a pig trophy.

Maybe No. 20 Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) is or isn’t there with Wisconsin. That’s in the eye of the stakeholder. No. 8 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0) is certainly there with Iowa.

— Iowa has won four straight Floyd of Rosedale meetings, six of the last seven and 14 of the last 18 and has been favored in most if not all of these games. The Hawkeyes are 3-point favorites Saturday.

— Iowa ran a fake field goal last season where the long snapper dished the ball sideways to a tight end. Now, it still was a close game. The TD gave Iowa a 21-7 lead. This wasn’t piling on, but good luck telling the Minneosta Motivation Machine that this week.

— Yes, this was 2017, but you know how the “moto” works in college football. It’s an awfully convenient memory, and, sure, the Gophers probably do remember TE Noah Fant “rowing the boat” on them after catching a TD pass.

What does this all mean? It means Minnesota is a giant clenched fist Saturday.

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Maroon and Gold

1. Pass efficiency of justice — The audacity of Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to run an RPO system where hockey is going on the same time as outdoor football.

It’s a well-executed system that plays to the Gophers’ strengths — wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, two of the top five wide receivers in the Big Ten this season.

You also have to admit it plays to the strengths of quarterback Tanner Morgan. Here are the national leaders in pass efficiency: No. 1 Jalen Hurts, No. 2 Tua Tagovailoa, No. 3. Joe Burrow, No. 4. Tanner Morgan. Morgan is tracking at a 191.04 pass efficiency. The Iowa season record is 157.6 by Ricky Stanzi in 2010.

Morgan’s RPO slickness neutralized the Penn State front that terrorized the Hawkeyes on Oct. 12. One sack for the Nittany Lions in the Gophers’ 31-26 win in Minneapolis last week. Morgan completed 18 of 20 passes. Yes, 18 of 20 and defensive players were allegedly on the field.

 

PSU coach James Franklin estimated the Gophers went 75 percent RPOs last week. With quick, one-man reads, it’s difficult to get pressure.

2. The yin and yang of the B1G schedule — In conference play only, the Gophers are No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing with 231.0 yards per game. Iowa is under 100 at 96.1.

The Hawkeyes and Gophers have played very different Big Ten schedules, so that does factor. The Gophers have another week of proving it; while the Hawkeyes have to avoid the ground disaster that happened last week at Wisconsin, 46 carries for 300 yards (6.52 yards per).

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The Gophers don’t have Jonathan Taylor (probably No. 3 on everyone’s Heisman ballot), but Rodney Smith has five 100-plus games and 940 yards (Iowa’s one 100-yard performance this season was Toren Young’s 131 against Middle Tennessee State).

3. The Gophers’ OL has had moments — The Gophers weren’t able to control tempo against lesser opponents early in the season. They didn’t have dominant performances against South Dakota State and Fresno State and then dropped to less than 100 yards vs. Georgia Southern and Purdue, games the Gophers won by a collective 10 points.

Since, Minnesota has been above 100 yards with three games of 300-plus (Illinois, Nebraska and Maryland).

There’s been some juggling and injuries with the O-line, but the improvement has kept coming. Iowa can’t say that.

4. The things that happen during magic seasons — Minnesota’s defense also is having a year. The Gophers’ conference-leading 14 interceptions certainly jump out. With the Gophers winning at this level, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is probably looking at some major awards. He leads the league with seven picks, bouncing back from an injury-marred 2018. Winfield is one of the several good stories that sort of have to happen during these types of runs.

But also last week. The Gophers aren’t great in red zone defense, ranking No. 12 in the Big Ten with opponents scoring 87.5 percent of the time. Against Penn State, the Lions tripped into the red zone six times and came away with just two TDs.

 

The Gophers stopped PSU on downs from UM’s 5 early in the fourth quarter. And then on the last ditch, safety Jordan Howden got the pick for the close out.

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Good stories and part of your team game rising up in the moment, that’s the magic that makes 9-0.

5. Relevant numbers — Minnesota has won 11 straight games. The Gophers’ last loss was to Northwestern 364 days ago. Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck got the Cadillac contract going into the PSU game. He’ll get paid between $4.6 and $4.9 million through 2026. Minnesota’s top three running backs average 38.6 carries per game. Iowa’s top three average 26.9.

Black and gold

1. Quality W — A win over unranked Purdue is nice. Iowa will take a road win at Northwestern every year, it doesn’t matter if the Wildcats are marching into the abyss this season. These are nice. You aren’t throwing back wins, but you’re also not putting these fish on the wall.

Iowa’s last win over a ranked team was a biggie, smashing No. 5 Ohio State 55-24 in 2017. Since then, it’s been 0-for-6, including three empty plate appearances this season (Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin).

Minnesota is ranked No. 8. Illinois is enjoying a resurgence and last week’s win over Michigan State was one for the Illini ages, but it’s not going to be ranked next Saturday in Kinnick. Nebraska won’t sniff the rankings this year and might not bowl.

Pending whichever program in whichever bowl, this is the Hawkeyes’ last chance for a wall fish in 2019. There’s an angst building. The program needs to deliver something unexpected. Can it?

2. Stanley — First, Iowa QB Nate Stanley talked with reporters this week and said he was fine after the massive hit he took on the two-point conversion attempt in the final three minutes at Wisconsin. So, that’s good for Iowa.

 

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It’s good for Iowa because whatever happens from here on out is going to route through Stanley, who’s been Iowa’s best and most consistent offensive performer this season. With the running game not holding up its end of the deal, so much has had to route through Stanley.

Odd stat time: Divide passing yards into rushing yards, that number for the Hawkeyes this year is 1.74. What’s it mean? It shows imbalance and allows defenses to key on tendency, i.e. rush the passer with abandon on third-and-anything more than 6 yards.

When Iowa was out of running backs in 2004, this number was 3.3. In 2009, when the Hawkeyes went to the Orange Bowl on the strength of a mighty defense, the number was 1.94. In 2011, when Iowa routed through a passing game led by wide receiver Marvin McNutt, the number was 1.70.

During 12-2 in 2015? The number was 1.12. The only year since 2004 Iowa has had more rushing yards than passing was 2016 (.89).

The higher the number, the more there’s a deficit in one part of Iowa’s game. This is a long way of saying Stanley is carrying a lot of weight for this offense.

3. Welch would be good to have this week — Tough week for Iowa’s inside linebackers at Wisconsin. Of course, tough week for [fill in the blank] inside linebackers at Wisconsin. It’s one of those games where run fits mean the world and Wisconsin held an advantage with its O-line and RB Jonathan Taylor facing off against redshirt freshman middle linebacker Dillon Doyle and sophomore weakside linebacker Djimon Colbert. And this isn’t just a linebacker stat. Iowa’s D-line couldn’t keep lanes clear for linebackers to diagnose and react. Plus, Jonathan Taylor.

You knew a redshirt freshman middle linebacker at Wisconsin would be a tough go this year, next year and every year. Senior middle linebacker Kristian Welch has been out with a stinger injury since Penn State. From size and strength to knowledge and experience, there’s a big difference between a freshman and a senior middle linebacker.

4. Corner-go-around — Rough week vs. Wisconsin for senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia. The Badgers targeted him for one big drive in the third quarter and got completions of 52 and 27 yards (a TD to Quintez Cephus). The Hawkeyes played some dime and sophomore Riley Moss got nicked for a completion.

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The Hawkeyes’ secondary this season has been excellent at brushing off the bad plays. Minnesota’s passing offense leaves Wisconsin’s in the dust, so engage chin straps because Bateman and Johnson are tracking first-team all-Big Ten.

5. Relevant numbers — The Hawkeyes are 14-4 in their last 18 rivalry trophy games. The elusive bull (four straight losses to Wisconsin) is the angst in your belly, but everyone knows the Gophers aren’t a gimme. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 12 TDs this season, third fewest in the country. This might be tracking to a modern-day record, but the official record is one TD allowed and that was 1899.

Prediction

Iowa 27, Minnesota 24

Cue the Ed Harris speech from “Apollo 13.” No, not “Houston, we have a problem,” the one where he says, “Failure is not an option.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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