MINNESOTA OFFENSE vs. IOWA STATE DEFENSE
Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber is coming off a disappointing regular season in which he threw only 12 touchdowns and a career-high 14 interceptions. Weber threw for a combined 39 touchdowns the two seasons before but he was clearly affected by the loss of All-Big Ten wide receiver Eric Decker who was lost to a foot injury during the season. The Gopher offense was averaging 27 points per game before Decker's injury and has only averaged 14 points per game since he went down. Besides Decker, the only Minnesota player with more than 30 catches on the season is tight end Nick Tow-Arnett who has 35 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He will be shadowed most of the game by Big 12 Newcomer of the Year David Sims who really solidified the safety position during his first season in Ames.
The key for Minnesota opening up the passing game will be how well they run the ball which was not a strength during the regular season. The Gophers only averaged 97 yards a game as a team and their leading rusher, Duane Bennett, only rushed for a total of 376 yards on the season. The Gophers will also run the ball with Kevin Whaley and DeLeon Eskridge who combined for another 576 rushing yards. This aspect of the game will be huge as the Minnesota has two enormous tackles in Dominic Alford (6-3, 336 pounds ) and Jeff Wills (6-7, 365) to run behind. Cyclone defensive end Chris Lyle and All-Big -12 linebacker Jesse Smith will be key in shutting down the Gopher ground game.
The game figures to be a close one and for Iowa State that means it will likely boil down to one major factor which is forcing turnovers. The Cyclones won the turnover battle in all six of their victories and finished 8th in the country by forcing 30 turnovers on the season.
IOWA STATE OFFENSE vs. MINNESOTA DEFENSE
If Minnesota wants a good chance of stopping the Iowa State offense they will need to focus on shutting down Cyclone running back Alexander Robinson who spent the regular season rushing for 1,056 yards and 5 TD's. He also added 243 yards in receiving yards and is clearly the focal point of the Iowa State offense. One interesting factor to look for will be how the Gopher defensive line which has an average weight of 295 pounds deals with the Iowa State offensive line which has an average weight of 327 pounds.
Quarterback Austen Arnaud was up and down throughout the season as he threw for 1,801 yards and completed 57% of his passes. He had 14 touchdown passes but also threw 11 interceptions. Arnaud will be facing two solid cover cornerbacks in Tra Simmons and Marcus Sherels who could cause trouble for the Cyclone passing attack. Arnaud will be looking at wide receivers Marquis Hamilton, Jake Williams, and Darius Darks and tight end Derrick Catlett as his main targets.
The Gopher defense finished 56th nationally giving up 24.6 points per game and also caused 24 turnovers.
PREDICTION: Bowl games are very unpredictable but I will be shocked if this is not a relatively close game. The loss of Decker has proven to be a huge loss for the Gophers and I expect it will also continue to hurt their ability to open up their offense during the game. The game should come down to who wins the turnover battle and I expect that will be the Cyclones. In a very close game, I predict that Iowa State will defeat Minnesota 27-24.