Before each Minnesota football game, GopherDigest will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Iowa publisher Derek Young, journalist of Iowa's Scout.com site (Iowa City, Iowa) to preview the Gophers' Week 11 home game against the 9-0 Iowa Hawkeyes.
1) Iowa is off to their best start in years and is now ranked the #5 team in the country according to the latest College Football playoff rankings, What's the biggest difference you see between this year and last year's team?
DY: I wasn't around to cover Iowa last year, actually, but I can give my perspective on it still in addition to what the players and coaches have said about it.
It is a team that has gotten back to its identity in my opinion. People can reference a new Kirk Ferentz all they want, and in some cases it is true, but it is about getting back to the staples from the teams under him that had the most success. They're running the ball extremely well and playing sensational defense. However, the two biggest differences from last year would be that they are finishing games strong and closing them out and that they have C.J. Beathard at quarterback. The team really follows his lead, he has a ton of poise, he's gritty, has a strong arm, and he gives them an added element of being able to run the ball well.
2) The Hawkeyes have rushed for over 1800 yards with 25 scores on the ground, what's been the key for Iowa and who have been the guys helping Iowa achieve this success?
DY: I think the key would have to be the play of the offensive line. They've had to shuffle guys in and out because of injuries but have paved the way. It doesn't matter who runs the ball, they are still finding success running the ball. Akrum Wadley, Jordan Canzeri, and LeShun Daniels all have went over 100 yards rushing in a game at some point this season at least once, while Wadley and Canzeri each have eclipsed 200 yards in a game.
It's a talented backfield but the offensive line is getting it done. I think the three worth mentioning the most are the interior guys. Austin Blythe is in his fourth year as a starter at center and Jordan Walsh is one of the best offensive guards in the Big Ten. Sean Welsh has been a valuable key at left guard, too. His versatility allowed them to move him to right tackle for a game to compensate for an injury and it went far smoother than anyone anticipated.
3) Desmond King has been a ball hawk for Iowa in the secondary, how good has he been and who are a few other names to keep an eye on for the Hawkeyes on D?
DY: He's just a special player. I'm going to toot my own horn here for a second and share that I was the only one expecting and predicting him to be an all-Big Ten type player even before the season started. He just is incredibly fast and athletic and he has taken the next step now. He's studying the game and seeing the field better and seeing plays better and he dedicates a lot of that improvement on his film study. I think he could be an early entrant to the NFL Draft if his stock continues to soar. He has eight interceptions already this year. It's going to be tough to duplicate that again.
Other standouts have been defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, inside linebacker Josey Jewell, outside linebacker Ben Niemann, and safety Miles Taylor.
Jaleel Johnson is a handful in the middle. He can absorb double teams with regularity and he has shown the ability to produce constant penetration as well. Jewell is someone that is improving rapidly. He is only a sophomore but hands out the signals to the defense and is starting to just make plays all over the field, as evidenced by his 15 tackles last week against Indiana. Niemann is very athletic and someone that can make plays sideline to sideline. Niemann is a very good pass rusher off the edge as well.
Miles Taylor struggled in the early going but has really came on lately. He's a sound player, always in the right spot, and has forced his share of turnovers as well. He's very instrumental in the running game, limiting the big plays. His tackling can get lazy at times and that was the problem at the beginning of the year.
4) Iowa is on average out-scoring their opponents 33-16 per game and has out-scored 163-74 in the first half, what's been the key to the Hawkeyes success early in games?
DY: They have a stout defense as a whole but they stiffen even more in the red zone. Opponents are only reaching the end zone around 50 percent of the time they advance the ball within the 20 yard line. It's almost a bend but don't break mentality. They can give up yards but they win by limiting the opponent to field goals or turning them over.
Another key would be limiting the opponents' possessions and special teams. Opponents can't generate any rhythm and have trouble keeping up because they don't hold the ball long enough. Iowa has really stood out in the time of possession category, mostly because of their running game, and their punter has pinned opponents deep a lot or flipped the field. They're executing in all three phases of the game.
5) What are the keys for the Hawkeyes if they're going to beat the Gophers at home and what's your prediction for the Minnesota vs. Iowa game and why?
DY: I think the keys for Iowa would be to stay true to who they are. The Gophers aren't the best at defending the run so exploiting that should be priority number one. If they establish that, they will be able to put up a good number of points on Minnesota, I believe.
Prediction: Iowa 33, Minnesota 10