Before each Minnesota football game, GopherIllustrated will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Iowa beat writer Derek Young of HawkeyeInsider.com (Iowa City, Iowa) to preview the Gophers' Week 6 home game against the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Floyd of Rosedale.
1) Iowa started off the year strong with convincing victories over Miami (Ohio) and Iowa State, but have faltered a bit in the last few weeks losing to NDSU and Northwestern at home, and squeaking out a win against Rutgers on the road. What's going on with the Hawkeyes team right now?
DY: They aren't doing the little things right and making costly mistakes. Iowa was excellent last year because how clean of a game they consistently played in regards to turnovers, penalties, mistakes, and self-inflicted wounds. That hasn't been the case the past few weeks. They've had a touchdown of over 70 yards called back, another run of over 70 yards called back. They've seen 2nd and 1 turn into 2nd and 1 way too many times because of penalties. They're playing behind the sticks and they don't have an offense constructed to overcome that. Defensively it's all the big plays they've given up because of poor angles and missed tackles. Despite all this, they've kept teams from scoring for the most part. It's been a bend but don't break defense, but it did start to break against Northwestern a week ago.
2) Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard performed admirably last season and is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. How has he performed in recent weeks without top wide receiver target Matthew Vandeberg?
DY: They've only been with out Matt VandeBerg for one game so far and Riley McCarron stepped up fine in his absence. Regardless of who steps up, you don't lose your top receiver and not have it hurt. McCarron isn't as fast or explosive as VandeBerg, and everyone else is unproven and young. Jerminic Smith has a ton of talent but still grinding through learning situations. Beathard has done fine without VandeBerg. It's the pass protection that has hurt. He was sacked six times against Northwestern and it could have been more.
3) The Hawkeyes struggled to run the ball last week against Northwestern as they rushed the ball for a 1.9 YPC on 41 attempts. What was the issue last week?
DY: It wasn't nearly as bad as those numbers suggest. You have to remember that Beathard was sacked six times so that really shook the numbers up. That gave Beathard 9 carries for -28 yards. LeShun Daniels ran 17 times for 72 yards and Wadley was limited to just 35 yards on 14 carries. So the 1.9 YPC stat is a bit skewed but they still weren't all that impressive. Wadley and Daniels combined for 107 yards on 31 carries. A lot of offenses would take that but Iowa needs more considering their identity. The issue was their offensive line just not being good enough to get downhill on the Northwestern front. They could also load up the box since they gave no respect to the Iowa passing game. It burned them a few times doing that but it dinged the Hawkeye run game.
4) On defense, Iowa's stud players are linebacker Josey Jewall and elite corner Desmond King. How have their senior seasons been and who are some other names on this Hawkeyes defense to watch out for Saturday?
DY: King has been fantastic. You can make an argument that he's been better than he was a season ago. He just won't get the publicity and fanfare for it because the statistics aren't there regarding interceptions. I tried explaining this soon after last season ended. King could improve his game and be a better player but folks would think his performance declined because another 7 or 8 interception season would be nearly impossible to duplicate.
Jewell as been great as well. He's been flying all over the field. He's also been used as more of a blitzer the past couple weeks and he's punished quarterbacks, knocking them silly for a few snaps. Just ask Laviano from Rutgers, Joel Lanning from Iowa State, and Easton Stick for NDSU.
A few names to be on alert for would be defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, still. He's a big body in the middle of the defensive line that is tough to contain. He has a lot of strength and quickness. Defensive end Anthony Nelson has not been impactful against the run but he has been a lethal weapon against the pass. He's one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers right now as only a redshirt freshman.
5) What are the keys for Iowa if they're going to retain the Floyd of Rosedale, and what's your score prediction for the Iowa vs. Minnesota game, and why?
DY: Iowa can't beat themselves like they have been. They aren't explosive enough on offense, or balanced enough, to play from behind the sticks. They have to do well on first down. They need manageable second and third down situations to succeed. Gophers need to get them off schedule like other teams have. Make Iowa throw when they have to, in predictable situations, not when they want to.
Iowa has to stop the big chunk plays on defense. They have very good spurts in the game where the defense is holding the opposing offenses, stopping the run, and beginning to stifle them in every way. Then it's like a light switches and they forget everything and allow a big chunk play of at least 30 yards that alters the complexion of the drive and puts the defense on their heels. That's how Northwestern scored 38 points on just 362 yards of offense. 362 yards of offense is good but you wouldn't expect it to amass that many points.
Iowa's return game has been great this year. It's made up for some of the struggles the offense has had. They've given them a short field quite a bit. They've also flipped the field very well because of the excellent punting from transfer Ron Coluzzi. Iowa needs to continue to be superior in this phase of the game because they just haven't been playing good enough in the other phases just yet and they need all the help that they can get. There's a reason the Hawkeyes scored 31 points on just 283 yards of total offense against Northwestern and it was great the field position they were afforded thanks to the returns of Desmond King and Riley McCarron.
Prediction: IOWA 23, MINNESOTA 22