Expert Intel: Iowa Hawkeyes' Next Opponent - Minnesota

Expert intel from Scout's Minnesota publisher Ryan Burns as he shares the information on the Golden Gophers as well as a prediction.

Ryan Burns answers five questions on the upcoming Minnesota vs Iowa matchup as well as a bonus question.

1) Defensive back Jalen Myrick is done for the season. How big of a blow is that for the defense and how do they respond?

It's definitely a blow as Myrick was rated one of the best corners in all of college football according to PFF recently, but Minnesota does have the depth to deal with his loss as they have one preseason All-American corner in Briean Boddy-Calhoun and one All-B1G corner in Eric Murray. Boddy-Calhoun missed some time earlier in the season with a knee injury, but is now back playing through the pain while Murray has been playing well again all season long. To try and replace Myrick on Saturday, I expect Minnesota to use two true freshmen corners in KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault, who have seen time the last few games for Minnesota. Going from one of the better corners in the conference to a true freshman is a large leap, but I don't expect it to rear it's head against the Hawkeyes.

2) A lot of the talk has surrounded the secondary for Minnesota for being so strong. What have you seen from the rest of the unit?

I've seen that the linebackers have really stepped up as the secondary is very banged up now, but the defensive line needs to gain some momentum during the last three games of the season. Linebackers De'Vondre Campbell, Jack Lynn and Iowa native Cody Poock have combined for over 160 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss this season, and all three have taken in to another level this season. Cody Poock in particular has been a huge difference maker when he's out on the field, as Minnesota seems to play much better as a defense overall when he's out there. 

 The defensive line had high expectations coming into the season and they've struggled to generate pressure on a consistent basis as the group as a whole only have 10.5 sacks on the season through nine games. There's been too many times when the quarterback has a clean pocket and all day to throw, so I'm hoping the defensive line steps it up for the Gophers during their last three games with the pass rush.

3) Minnesota's passing stats actually look a little better than the rushing stats so far. Has that been a surprise and how has Mitch Leidner developed? 

The Gophers have had to pass a lot during their three game losing streak and the stats are starting to skew in that direction because of it. Minnesota has been trying to establish the running game, but the offensive line is very banged up as the Gophers are down two starters and most of the guys starting are playing with injuries. Plus, because Minnesota has been down so frequently of late, they've had to pass a lot more to get back in the game, so Leidner has been throwing the ball around the yard. 

 Leidner has looked much more consistent of late and that's good news for Gopher fans as he's turning into the capable game manager I thought he could be heading into the year. He's been more and more consistent on making better throws and reads within Minnesota's offense and for the Gophers to have a chance to beat a top five team on the road this weekend, that trend will have to continue for Mitch Leidner.

4) The Gophers were extremely challenged on the offensive side of the ball early on in the season. Have they turned the corner? 

They've been fortunate that some younger players have stepped up like Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, Brandon Lingen and Rashad Still, but also that a senior such as KJ Maye has been impressive of late as well. 

 The Gophers play two freshmen running backs on a majority of plays in Georgia native's Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, and they've been able to create holes for themselves when there's been little there and have been key players for Minnesota when they've been able to run the ball effectively. TE Brandon Lingen and WR Rashad Still have been featured more and more in Minnesota's offense of late and Still has touchdowns in consecutive games and Lingen has been a security blanket for Leidner as well.

 KJ Maye is the guy that's really come on this year and especially of late as in his last two games, Maye has 16 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown against two top 20 teams in Michigan and Ohio State. He's been running great, crisp routes and his hands are getting better by the week. 

 I don't think they've necessarily turned a corner yet, but if they can start establishing the run games during their last three games, things will start to look better for the Gopher offense.

5) What are the keys for Minnesota in order to get the win? How are they emotionally after a grueling few weeks; losing their head coach, losing heartbreaker to Michigan, and being knocked off by Ohio State? And prediction on the game?

Minnesota never seems to play well at Kinnick for whatever reason and if that trend is going to reverse, the Gophers are going to have to get off to a quick start. They've been outscored 54-13 in the first quarter this season and that can't happen if they're going to hand Iowa their first loss of the season. 

 They're feeling pretty good today as the team wanted Tracy Claeys to be named the full-time head coach in the worst way and with that news, their focus shifts to the Hawkeyes. Spirits are as high as a team can be coming off three straight losses and losing their head coach, but they want this Iowa game badly. 

 My prediction is that I believe the Gophers pull off the upset. I'm not entirely sold on Iowa as they've only beaten three FBS teams with a winning record this season. I also know that they've benefited from said schedule as by the end of the season, during Minnesota and Iowa last 16 games, the Gophers will have played 10 AP top 25 opponents and the Hawkeyes just three (Wisconsin x2 and NW, AP Top 25 when the game was played). Schematically, I think the Minnesota defense matches up well with Iowa offense and it's all going to be about how the Gophers O and Hawkeyes D play on Saturday night in prime-time. I believe the game is going to close throughout, but that Minnesota pulls off the shocker 21-20.

BONUS: Iowa ranked 5th in the polls; fair or foul? Is that about what you think they deserve?

I understand the Baylor vs. Iowa argument as the Bears have played absolutely no one, while Iowa has beat Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road, but I think the Hawkeyes are much too high. I'd have them more around the 10-12 range at this stage as they just haven't played anyone yet. Iowa beat Wisconsin without Corey Clement and did beat up on a pretty good Northwestern team on the road, but I believe some of the teams below them like Stanford, Oklahoma State and LSU should be ranked higher. 

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