Inside Slant: Minnesota vs. Iowa

The Gophers are definitely headed into uncharted waters. Heading into Saturday's game at Iowa, Minnesota is 4-0 for the first time since 2008 and one of three undefeated teams in the Big Ten. This marks only the 10th time since 1950 that the Gophers have started a season with a 4-0 record.

The stakes are getting higher for the Gophers, who finished 3-9 in each of the last two seasons. A win over Iowa would make Minnesota 5-0 for the first time since 2004. There's even talk in the Twin Cities about the Gophers going to a bowl game, something that seemed unheard of when the season started.

It's too early to say the Gophers are a hunted team, but they will definitely have a target on their backs Saturday. Minnesota has beaten Iowa the last two seasons, but both of those games were at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers will face a hostile environment at Iowa City against the 2-2 Hawkeyes.

"We know what's in front of us," coach Jerry Kill said. "We know Iowa will be ready to play."

The Gophers most likely will be without star quarterback MarQueis Gray, who missed last week's game against Syracuse after sustaining a sprained left ankle two weeks ago.

"I don't anticipate him playing," Kill said in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "It would be a minor miracle if he was ready to play. I can't control the healing process, but right now, I'm not real optimistic (about) how quick that's going to come along."

Max Shortell threw three touchdown passes after Gray was injured against Western Michigan. The sophomore made his second career start last week. He didn't have a touchdown pass, but completed 16-of-30 passes for 231 yards and didn't commit a turnover.

A hip injury to wide receiver Marcus Jones could affect Minnesota's kickoff return situation. Jones has a team-high four returns for an average of 18.8 yards. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who is averaging 29 yards on three returns, could replace Jones as the No. 1 return man.

Even though PK Jordan Wettstein struggled against Syracuse, coach Jerry Kill is sticking with the senior. Kill had backup Chris Hawthorne, who had the job last season, to warm up after Wettstein missed a 26-yarder, but decided not to make a change. Wettstein regrouped and hit a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.

"We'll work through it and see on video what he did wrong," Kill said in the St. Paul-Pioneer Press. "I think any time you struggle in an area, you always think about, Do I need to do something here or not. Then, you just go with your gut decision."

The Gophers will try to retain the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for a third straight season, which hasn't happened since 1998-2000. Minnesota hasn't won at Iowa City since Nov. 20, 1999, a 25-21 win. The Gophers have lost five straight at Iowa.

SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads Iowa 61-42-2 (last meeting, 2011, 22-21 Minnesota)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers have shown the ability to run the ball, which will be especially important on the road. Donnell Kirkwood has become a workhorse in the backfield and will get a lot of carries against Iowa. Minnesota needs to be able to run the ball well so there will be less pressure on sophomore quarterback Max Shortell to carry the offense. The banged-up offensive line must allow the offense to be able to control the ball.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Iowa's offense has struggled early in the season. It will be up to Minnesota's defense to make sure that continues. The Gophers defense looks much different than it has the last two seasons, a major reason why they have won all four games. The line has put good pressure on the quarterback with 11 sacks in four games. Minnesota has also come up with seven interceptions and recovered three fumbles.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"If you didn't have fun, you must not like fun." Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, on the atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium during the Gophers' win over Syracuse, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Iowa, Sept. 29 The matchup is a role reversal of sorts. While the Gophers are undefeated, the Hawkeyes are fortunate to be 2-2. Iowa looks like a team that will finish at the bottom of the standings, but it should be ready to play after losing to Minnesota the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see how the Gophers handle a fired-up team that will be out to even the score.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Quarterback Max Shortell threw three touchdown passes after MarQueis Gray was injured in the Western Michigan. Shortell directed the Gophers to a win over Syracuse last week, but both those games were at TCF Bank Stadium. It will be interesting to see how the sophomore responds when he makes his second career road start. Minnesota lost to Michigan 58-0 in Shortell's first road start last season. While the competition isn't as daunting this time, he will have to play a mistake-free game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RB Donnell Kirkwood has finally overcome injuries to become a key part of Minnesota's offense. He's averaging 4.5 yards a carry and 90.2 yards per game. Kirkwood carried the ball a career-high 28 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse, falling a yard short of his second straight 100-yard game. Kirkwood had a career-high 110 yards against Western Michigan.

DE D.L. Wilhite has taken over on the Gophers' line. The redshirt senior has already recorded 4 1/2 sacks for 29 yards. Wilhite has 5 1/2 tackles for a loss of yardage, totaling 33 yards, and has forced a fumble.

WR A.J. Barker, who appeared in only two games last season, is making his presence felt in multiple ways. The redshirt junior leads the team with 14 catches for an average of 20.2 yards and four touchdowns. Barker has also returned six punts for an 8.8-yard average.

ROSTER REPORT

QB MarQueis Gray is expected to miss the Iowa game because of a sprained left ankle. He was injured against Western Michigan and is expected to miss at least three more weeks.

G Tommy Olson left the Syracuse game with an ankle injury.

CB Martez Shabazz has missed the last two games because of a dislocated toe and isn't expected to play against Iowa.

C Zach Mottla has an ankle injury and is expected to miss the Iowa game.

WR Marcus Jones sustained a hip pointer against Syracuse. He missed the final five games last season because of a torn ACL.

LB Lamonte Edwards didn't play against Syracuse after sustaining a concussion versus Western Michigan.

WR Andre McDonald was hospitalized last week to undergo test for a reported heart problem.

WR Jamel Harbison tore the ACL in his right knee against UNLV and is out for the season.


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