It may be the best rivalry trophy in college football and it's up for grabs this weekend as the 98 pound pig called the Floyd of Rosedale will be awarded to Saturday night's winner between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes. It will be in front of the first sellout crowd of the year at Kinnick Stadium, a crowd that will be participating in a 'black out' in addition to the players wearing their all-black alternate uniforms.
Earlier in the day Kinnick Stadium will also play host to the biggest crowd ever for a wrestling dual as around 40,000 are expected to fill the venue when Tom Brands' grapplers will host the top team in the nation, Oklahoma State. The festivities in Iowa City will provide quite the electric atmosphere.
Now, let's direct our attention to the on-field play.
Iowa enters the game unscathed at 9-0 and ranked #5 in the new college football playoff rankings while Minnesota stumbles in at 4-5 and 1-4 in the Big Ten.
The last few weeks have been emotion-filled for the Gophers. Former head coach Jerry Kill stepped down unexpectedly followed by a heartbreaking loss to Michigan and then losing to Ohio State by two touchdowns a week later. They have attempted to thwart that downward spiral by hiring Tracy Claeys to be their permanent head coach, a decision that was fully supported by the players. He signed a three-year contract to be the head coach of Minnesota.
Will that all play a role? I think so. College football is an emotional game. Losing someone they cared about so much followed by a gut-wrenching loss to Michigan is enough to dwindle the spirit of any team. Add on that they had to (likely) empty the tank to just stay competitive with Ohio State and Michigan and it is fair to question how much this team has left to exert. Not only that but Minnesota will be out with two of their starting defensive linemen and star cornerback Jalen Myrick for this game.
On the other end, the Hawkeyes should be fully charged. One of their emotional leaders, running back Jordan Canzeri, is expected to make his return. They also have the added element of wanting to redeem what happened in this ball game last year. The Gophers annihilated Iowa, handing Kirk Ferentz one of his most embarrassing losses ever. Usually when speaking to the players, they don't pull any outside factors into the game, maintaining the "every game is important" mantra. That took a backseat this week as they mentioned the revenge angle when addressing the media this week. That tells me it was approved by the coaching staff and it has been addressed in meetings. It is a talking point heading into this game.
Because of all that, I don't believe Iowa has any problem with Minnesota on Saturday. Iowa opened up as a 12 point betting favorite in this one which only enhanced my belief. That tells me that Vegas thinks the Hawkeyes are a heavy favorite and wanted to start out with a line that would encourage some to place money on the Gophers.
Without their starting defensive tackles and Iowa having the full compliment of their running backs, I think the Hawkeyes pound the ball on the ground at will early and often. They'll try to make Minnesota submit and they will. It will be a ball-control, run-heavy attack that consumes the ball for a large portion of the game.
Defensively, it is about limiting the big plays and making Minnesota one-dimensional. That should not be difficult to do when you consider the prowess of the Hawkeye defense and the struggles of the Minnesota offense.
The Gophers haven't run the ball all year and against this defense, there's nothing that suggests that will change on Saturday. They've used a short-passing attack with Mitch Leidner at quarterback to try to compensate for it so the Iowa linebackers will be put to task to thwart the short and intermediate passing game. Assuming they eliminate the Minnesota rushing attack, Iowa should have no problems on defense as long as they limit the explosive and big plays.
It's hard to imagine Minnesota having enough emotional energy to gear up for this one. Couple that with their first quarter struggles (being outscored 53-14) and Iowa's hot starts (outscoring opponents 50-16 in the first quarter) and this could spell doom for the Gophers. They've struggled to run the ball all year and should struggle stopping the run with their defensive tackles out. Iowa will be emotionally charged because of the atmosphere and the revenge angle. It's tough to see this one being all that competitive.
HAWK TO ROCK
Offensively, I think Iowa jams it down Minnesota's throat on the ground. Picking a running back out of the 'Four Horsemen' is a difficult task as any one of them could break out. It will probably be some sort of combination of the group. I'll roll with the veterans on the interior of the offensive line for this one; Sean Welsh, Austin Blythe, and Jordan Walsh.
Defensively, it comes down to taking away the short passing game Minnesota has employed the last few weeks to compensate for their lack of running game. Cole Fisher and Ben Niemann become the keys there. Limit the big and explosive plays, stop the run, and have Niemann and Fisher branching out to the flats to take care of the rest.