Iowa run offense vs. Minnesota run defense: Fred Russell is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry in Big Ten action. The offensive line and Russell must improve on those numbers on Saturday. Of course, in limited action, Jermelle Lewis has started to look better and better…and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry in three games.
The Gophers aren't too bad against the run, but maybe that's because everyone wants to throw against them. In Minnesota's games against Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin (Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana aren't good), the Gophers have given up an average of 125 yards rushing on 4.0 yards per carry. Advantage: IOWA.
Iowa pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense: Senior quarterback Nathan Chandler must rebound off of one of his toughest outings a week ago. But, if the 6-7 QB has shown anything, it's the ability to bounce back. And he's got the right team to "get well" against.
The Gophers are not very good (read that: bad) against the pass. Against Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, they allowed an average of 315 passing yards and only intercepted two out of 128 throws against them. Advantage: IOWA.
Minnesota run offense vs. Iowa run defense: The Gophers have a tremendous running attack with Marion Barber III leading the way with 1,134 yards on 6.0 yards per carry and 17 touchdowns. Then, Laurence Maroney has 921 yards on 7.5 yards per carry and nine TDs. Thomas Tapeh is no slouch, either, with 472 yards on 4.9 yards per carry and six scores. I think Minnesota's eighth-string tailback probably has 300 yards and five TDs. The stats are incredible.
However, Iowa has two guys returning this week—Jared Clauss and Grant Steen—who are outstanding against the run. Going into last week's Purdue game, the Hawkeyes were allowing only 54 rushing yards per game in the Big Ten. Including that dreadful game last Saturday, Iowa is still only giving up 2.1 yards per carry in the conference. This match-up should provide an outstanding test for both teams. Advantage: PUSH.
Minnesota pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: Asad Abdul-Khaliq has had a terrific season running the Gophers' offense. He has thrown for 1,841 yards and completed 65% of his passes, including 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. That's a 175.3 QB rating. The Minnesota offense can pile up the stats with the best of 'em right now. Benji Kamrath finished up the Gophers' victory over Wisconsin last Saturday after Abdul-Khaliq got hurt, but I would expect Abdul-Khaliq to return for this week's action. The Hawkeyes must get a stronger pass rush from their front four this week in Iowa City than they showed in West Lafayette. Advantage: MINNESOTA.
Special Teams: Nate Kaeding missed a 34-yard field goal last week. That won't happen again. Minnesota has a kicker with the first name of "Rhys" for crying out loud. Always take a "Nate" over a "Rhys." Everyone knows that. Also, I expect to see Iowa's punt return team score, either on a block or a return. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002. Glen Mason is in his seventh season at Minnesota, where he has compiled a 43-39 record. The last two seasons, the Gophers are 17-7 under Mason. However, this year's team might be a tad over-rated as Minnesota has beaten the likes of Northwestern (bad), Penn State (worse), Illinois (0-7 in the league) and Indiana (barely beat Illinois). The Gophers' only "quality win" in the conference was over Wisconsin…and it took a last-second field goal at home to accomplish that. Advantage: IOWA.
Intangibles: Minnesota has something that Iowa wants…five victories in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have something the Gophers want…the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. The tiebreaker goes to Iowa's senior class, which wants to finish the season undefeated at Kinnick Stadium. Another intangible is that this game will be played outside…and the Gophers don't like to play outside very much, not with the elements and all. Advantage: IOWA.
PREDICTION: I look for the Hawkeyes to make a couple of big plays in the first quarter, but they might get a little drained after the early emotional highs. Minnesota will likely come back and make a good game of it. Turnovers and special teams will play huge roles, as usual, but the most interesting match-up to me will be the Gophers' prolific running attack versus the tough Hawkeye defense.
Norm Parker's defenses bend every once in a while, but they rarely break. Minnesota might be able to run the ball with some consistency on Saturday, but it won't be easy to get into the end zone. The Gophers will victimize themselves with a very costly fumble and an equally costly interception.
Chandler will have a very good day, with 285 yards passing and a pair of TDs. Russell and Lewis will combine for 150 yards on the ground. Mo Brown will score a touchdown in his final game at Kinnick Stadium. And the Floyd of Rosedale trophy will stay right where it belongs. FINAL: IOWA 30, Minnesota 26.
Jon Miller's Prediction: Iowa 27, Minnesota 24 (Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)