1. Stop the Gopher run game – Although Gopher senior WR Ron Johnson might be the best WR in the Big Ten Conference, the Gopher running game is what makes the Minnesota Offense go. Tellis Redmon and Marion Barber combine to form one of the best RB tandems in the country as they combined in nine games to rush 258 times for 1,623 yards. Redmon is bigger than Barber and runs well between the tackles, but he also has above average speed. Barber is undersized for an every down RB, but he is very quick and fast.
Although the Gophers also like to run QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, he is not in the class of Antwaan Randle El of Indiana or even Brooks Bollinger of Wisconsin. Unlike the Hoosier running attack that is option oriented and starts with the playmaking ability of Randle El, the Gophers rack up yardage on the ground through more conventional pro-style sets with area blocking.
The Gophers style of running the ball plays right into the strength of Norm Parker's defense. When they are healthy, it is very difficult to find any consistent success running the ball right at the Iowa front seven. The front four of Derrick Pickens, Jerry Montgomery, Aaron Kampman, and Colin Cole are the most physical group in the conference. Not only is it difficult to play power football against them, but MLB Roger Meyer, LB Fred Barr, CB Bennie Sapp, SS Bob Sanders, and FS Derek Pagel have all been super against the run as well.
Redmon and Barber are very formidable, but a healthy Iowa Defense should dominate this match up. The Gophers know this and will probably have some misdirection plays and other new wrinkles, but they are still a power running team. The Iowa Defense was built to stop this style of offense.
2. Keep Ron Johnson in check – Minnesota is winless on the road this season, but when the Gophers played well on the road in past years, Ron Johnson was a big part in their success. The Gophers are a running team, but Johnson was the difference maker in the win at Ohio State last season. He was also the difference in the 27-24 Gopher win over Iowa last season as he made some clutch plays that pulled out a win in a game that the team should have lost.
Ron's numbers are almost identical to Kahlil Hill, yet the Gophers do not have another receiver like Dallas Clark to take pressure away from Johnson. The Gophers have been more consistent than Iowa with their run game, but the two-headed QB tandem of Abdul-Khaliq and Travis Cole has struggled more than the Iowa QB tandem.
The Gophers will try to take advantage of an aggressive run-stopping Iowa Defense by throwing off of play action and QB boots, but the DBs must stay with Johnson. Make another receiver beat the Hawks. In fact, if Iowa can stop the Gopher ground game, and Abdul-Khaliq is forced into being a playmaker, Iowa has a great chance of winning.
3. Score, score, score, and score some more – The Gophers have surprised many Big Ten followers with their performance as the year has progressed. After getting beat 38-7 by Toledo in their opener, the Gophers have improved almost every week even though their record of 3-6 might not show it. The Gopher Offense has been very good some weeks, and the defense has improved since the opening week. Head Coach Glen Mason and his personality and actions seem to quickly wear thin on people, but he is a good football coach. Much like Penn State, the Gopher players could have mailed it in after getting off to such a bad start, but Mason has been able to keep the team moving forward.
However, having said that, the Gopher Defense is still not very good. True freshman Bradley Vance runs well and makes plays at LB, but S Jack Brewer has been forced to make too many tackles downfield in their last line of defense. The Gophers had standouts last season such as John Schlecht, Karon Riley, and Willie Middlebrooks on their defense, but almost the entire defense is comprised of first year starters in 2001.
Iowa has been running the ball very well the last two games, and that should continue on Saturday. Although the Hawks will be without starting guards Eric Steinbach and Alonzo Cunningham, Kory Borchers has done a very good job replacing Cunningham. Lightfoot is just getting back from being injured, but he played pretty well last week. Steinbach had been playing so well that it hurts the team that he is not in the lineup right now. On a better note, it was great to see Ben Sobieski back knocking defenders around after what must have been 2.5 years of frustration on the sidelines. Ben should be seeing more time this week against the team from his home state, and I am sure he will be ready to play them.
The Gophers have speed on defense, but they are not good enough to stop both the Iowa ground game and the passing game. Michigan ran for 300 yards on the ground against U of M last week, and the Iowa front seven shut that same Michigan ground game down. Minnesota is going to have to stack the line of scrimmage to stop Iowa from running. If they do that, I am sure Hill and the Iowa QBs will rack up some nice numbers for senior day. It would be great if Iowa could score 35-42 points and send all the Iowa seniors out with good statistics and great memories in their last home game.
4. Remind the team about what the game means! – I think almost any Iowa player should not even need a speech this week, but if they do, almost anyone could spell out what this game on Saturday means. If Iowa wins, they become bowl eligible for the first time since 1997. For the seniors that were recruited when Iowa was previously good, it should really mean a lot to become bowl eligible again.
Those seniors also can go out with a 4-4 record in the Big Ten and an upper-division finish if they win. That also hasn't happened since 1997. More importantly, the game would mean that the seniors would not go out with the tag of being a loser class. Aaron Kampman and Ladell Betts are just two of the seniors that have a lot of pride and character, and they want to return the Iowa program to how it was when they were recruited.
If a player needs motivation besides the team record in 2001, the rivalry with the Gophers should suffice. I don't think any player, coach, or fan that was at the Metrodome will ever forget the 49-7 loss to Minnesota in Hayden's last game in 1998. It was as embarrassing of a defeat as Iowa has ever suffered, and it was just disgusting watching Gopher players sprint through the Iowa sideline to take Floyd of Rosedale back to their bench. It wasn't just that they took it back after Floyd was in Iowa City for five years, but it was the way that they did that is still fresh in my mind. The players that played in that game will be ready to play tomorrow.
Getting a team up for Minnesota most years might require a coach to give a long talk about the history of the rivalry and how much many Minnesota people disrespect Iowa. Maybe a coach would have to talk about how a racist group of Minnesota players took cheap shots at star Iowa RB Ozzie Simmons until they knocked him out of the game in 1934 – that is why the governors of the two states made this trophy to relieve the tensions between the two states. However, this year Coach Ferentz and the Hawks have so many reasons to be pumped for this game that I am not sure that the tradition of this rivalry beyond the 1998 game will even be talked about very much.
By the way, the other thing that should have this team ready to play is the fact that it is senior day. It is the last time that we will ever see seniors like Ladell Betts and R.J. Meyer playing in Kinnick Stadium. It is almost always such an emotional game for players, coaches, and fans, and this year should be as emotional as any. Think about what these seniors have been through and seen in there 4 or 5 years in Iowa City. There have been some rocky times filled with adversity, but guys like Betts and Kampman never quit. Not only did they not quit, but most of them worked hard to improve on the field while always conducting themselves in a very positive way both on and off the field.
That kind of dedication and intestinal fortitude deserves our support. If you don't have a ticket for the game, get one. If the Hawks face adversity on the field, don't boo, but rather find a way to support them. This is their last home game, and they deserve something more than what we game them in the Michigan game.