Howe: Gophers Beat Up Big Ten Bullies

Iowa was billed as the Bullies of the Big Ten some time ago after developing a reputation as a tough team. As HI Publisher Rob Howe writes, the Hawkeyes saw their script flipped by Minnesota on Saturday as the Gophers pounded their rivals, 51-14, in the Battle for Floyd.

MINNEAPOLIS - The Bullies of the Big Ten were beat up. It was an emasculation few predicted outside the Minnesota locker room.

The Golden Gophers manhandled Iowa in Saturday's 51-14 victory. A Hawkeye program built on toughness resembled Greg Heffley.

The beat down wasn't born out of playing the wrong guys or a stale game plan, two areas so often criticized when a team falls flat. It came down to one team, Minnesota, pounding the other into submission.

Sometimes we forget the basics of football. We shouldn't. Kirk Ferentz prides himself on operating a program built on being more physical than the opponent.

Saturday, the Gophers broke the proverbial rock over Iowa's head. Their coach, Jerry Kill, has followed the same principles as Ferentz in building Minnesota into a Big Ten contender.

"We weren't physical at all today. We were pretty soft. They were physical and that's a credit to them. They came out and played and we weren't ready to play," Strong Safety Johnny Lowdermilk said.

It appeared on paper to be a good matchup for the Hawkeyes. The foe would be right where they knew they'd be, doing what they expected. For the most part, that proved true.

Unlike Iowa's debacle at Maryland last month when the Terrapins sped passed the visitors, winning a decision by repeatedly sticking the jab. The Gophers stood in, toe to toe, and delivered a first-round knockout.

"There's no other way to describe it. It was embarrassing," Linebacker Quinton Alston said. "They ran the ball down our throat. We just have to come back and find out who we are. One week we'll be on cloud nine and the next week you never know."

As usual, Ferentz and his staff ultimately bear responsibility. They're paid handsomely to develop the athletes and place them in position to compete. They failed this week.

"I'd say I could coach a lot better. I was the head coach out there today. That's kind of the way it works," Ferentz said.

But, again, this wasn't game planning. It was worse. Minnesota stabbed the Hawkeyes in their heart.

Ferentz said his players might have come into the contest overconfident after 48-7 mauling against Northwestern last week. The players said they didn't feel that way. The coach was reaching for answers.

"They were ready to play. They ran the ball on us. They stopped the run. We want to be the most physical team but we weren't today," said Left Tackle Brandon Scherff, whose team was held to 2.8 yards per carry.

Iowa was ready to start the game and seemed to know the stakes. It marched down the field for a touchdown on its opening possession in a game pitting two 6-2 teams sitting at 3-1 in the Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes pushed. Minnesota just pushed back and kept pushing. As Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth.

The Gophers drove 76 yards in 12 plays for the equalizing touchdown the first time they had the ball. All their yardage came courtesy of running the ball, something Iowa knew they wanted to do. A late-hit delivered by linebacker Alston turned out to be the visitors' toughest play of the day.

The Hawkeyes managed to reach the second quarter in a 7-7 tie. Things went downhill from there.

Minnesota Quarterback Mitch Leider, he of the six total touchdown passes coming into Saturday, hit Donovahn Jones with a 44-yard scoring pass. Leider, who Iowa recruited to play tight end, then hit Maxx Williams in the end zone from nine yards out. They'd hook up again right before halftime as the home team took a 35-7 into the locker room.

At this point, one would hope Iowa could pick itself up and save face showing some fight in the second half. Instead, the Gophers pounded its pride into the ground. They held their rivals to four yards in the first 23 plus minutes after the intermission in extending the lead to 51-7 before calling off the dogs.

"They dominated us. They out physicalled us. They were tougher than us today," Free Safety Jordan Lomax said. "We know Minnesota. We know they're a tough team. We came out here and we weren't ready to go from the kickoff."

The Hawkeyes have rebounded before. The season could have been lost after being outclassed at Maryland but they responded against Northwestern.

Perhaps Iowa bounces back big and rolls at Illinois next week. The challenged will be much greater.

First, Iowa's drive for its first conference crown since 2004 may very well be out the window. Playing hard with that carrot dangling farther out of reach requires much greater concentration.

Secondly, and apologies for the repetition, but Iowa might not be able to physically match up with division leaders Wisconsin and Nebraska at the end of the month. Those teams can equal Minnesota's brute and will be licking their chops looking at this film.

"You have to find that hunger inside of you to just want to go out there and dominate your opponent," Lowdermilk said. "That's really what they did today. They had that hunger and we didn't. They wanted it more than us today."

After Saturday's showing, the Hawkeyes should be starving.

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