Iowa heads to Minnesota for an 11 a.m. kick against the Gophers on Saturday in what is a must-win for the Hawkeyes. They enter the contest with a 3-2 record after falling to defeat against Northwestern on Homecoming. Minnesota hosts Iowa as a 3-1 team. They went unscathed in non-conference play but came up short against Penn State in Happy Valley in overtime.
The rest of the schedule demands an Iowa win on Saturday. A third loss at this point in the slate would be catastrophic with matchups against Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan still looming. They also travel to Happy Valley themselves to take on the Nittany Lions at night, which is a tough task. However, think about what a win could do for the Hawkeyes. They move to 4-2 with a very winnable game the following week against Purdue that would give them a 5-2 record before they host the Badgers.
That is one way to knock off Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium. Enter the game with some momentum, confidence, and a belief the season is headed in the right direction and that they are figuring it out. Anything can happen at that point. This indicates and shows the importance of Saturday's game in Minneapolis. The Northwestern loss took away any margin for error in hopes of a respectable season.
KEYS TO WIN
1) CONTAIN THEIR BACKS - The Gophers have three legitimate running backs in Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, and Kobe McCrary. Smith has gouged defenses early on while Brooks and McCrary are both averaging over seven yards per carry. We know Iowa has struggled stopping the run, which means Minnesota will likely commit early and often. Not allowing big plays and keeping the Gophers in 2nd and 3rd and 6 or more all day will be huge if Iowa is able to pull it off.
2) COMMIT TO YOURSELF - I think we've heard talks all week about Iowa getting back to committing to what it does best, which is run the football. Minnesota has been solid against the run so far this season, but this is what Iowa has to do. If they can get the run game going early, it will make way for the pass later. Expect run early and often from Iowa.
3) SPECIAL TEAMS - This has been one of the stronger areas for the Hawkeyes over the course of the first five games. Ron Coluzzi has been great and so has Desmond King returning punts and kicks. The Gophers currently give up the most average yards per kick return so Iowa could break a few off, which could be a huge factor in a game between two teams that I feel are very close.
1) CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE - Both teams are going to enter this game desperate to run the ball. Minnesota will do it with their stable of backs and also use Mitch Leidner's ability on the ground. Rodney Smith has been very effective and he's their home run hitter, and Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary are getting chunks as well. Leidner has been a thorn in Iowa's side. The Hawkeyes want to get back to Iowa football and that means smashmouth football on the ground. They want their identity back. The team that wins in the trenches wins the game in nearly every football game but that will especially be the case in this one. Iowa controlling the line of scrimmage, and avoiding timely penalties, should also get them in the down and distances they want and that's imperative for them to move the ball on offense. They can't score from behind the sticks and this season has shown that in about every game.
2) FIELD POSITION - Iowa dominated the field of position battle against Northwestern despite falling to the Wildcats at home. Without that field position on offense, there's no way they score the 31 points they did. They accumulated less than 300 total yards of offense. They'll need that again and it's an area they have an advantage in Saturday's contest. The Gophers have been susceptible to long kickoff returns. If Iowa can capitalize, that lessens the margin of error that they need on offense to score as much as they may need.
3) MISTAKE FREE - Iowa can't win games when they run up the tab on the self-inflicted wounds. They're not moving the ball consistently enough on offense to have their positive plays erased. They're not getting enough stops on defense, especially in third and fourth down situations, to allow drives to be extended just because of their own errors. If they limit the self-inflicted wounds, control the line of scrimmage, and give themselves consistently positive field position, they aren't losing to Minnesota. They probably aren't losing to many teams when they do all them things. But they haven't shown the ability to do them all in the same game. But that's what has to happen.
HAWK TO ROCK
DYLAN - Give me Leshun Daniels in this one. Iowa is going to commit to the run game early on, which Daniels will be featured in. He tore Minnesota apart last season going for 150+ yards in Iowa City and that could be the case in this one as well. I believe Daniels eclipses the century mark on Saturday. On defense, I think it is going to be Jaleel Johnson. This team needs someone to really step up on the defensive line and as a senior I think Johnson knows that. Look for Johnson to step into running lanes and put constant pressure on Mitch Leidner.
DEREK - They need a big game from C.J. Beathard because he's going to have to avoid pressures from the Minnesota front but he hasn't shown he's able to do that at an optimal level this season. They have to run the football well to win. They need it to be the offensive line. But the running back that could break loose is LeShun Daniels. He's the one that emerged against Minnesota a year ago and he's had a few long runs called back and he's had a few others come close if it wasn't for a shoestring tackle. I think he's close to exploding and maybe Saturday will be the day for that.
Defensively, Jaleel Johnson has been playing well and that hasn't been the solution as they are still surrendering too many rushing yards. They need the other defensive tackle to do the same. Nathan Bazata hasn't been bad but they need more. If the can provide even more on Saturday, it would go a long way in limiting the damage the Gophers can do on the ground.
DYLAN - IOWA 27, MINNESOTA 24
DEREK - IOWA 28, MINNESOTA 23