Iowa (3-2) vs. Minnesota (3-1)
Time: 11:00 A.M. CT, Saturday, October 8th
TV: ESPN2 - Beth Mowins (Play by Play), Anthony Becht (Analyst) and Rocky Bolman (Sideline)
Last week: Iowa lost to Northwestern 38-31, and Minnesota lost to Penn State 29-26 in overtime.
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 62-45-2 (Iowa won 40-35 in Iowa City in 2015)
Vegas betting line: Iowa (-1)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Derek Young
Five things you need to know
1. Minnesota welcomes Iowa to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Once again, the schools will be playing for the coveted Floyd of Rosedale, which is a solid bronze pig that is 15.5 inches tall, 21 inches long and weighs 98.3 pounds. Minnesota leads the all-time series 62-45-2 and is 42-37-2 against Iowa when Floyd has been on the line. The Gophers enter Saturday’s tilt looking to regain possession of Floyd as Iowa prevailed 40-35 last season in Iowa City. Minnesota is 39-16-1 all-time against Iowa at home and that includes a 51-14 victory in 2014. Minnesota and Iowa are 3-3 in their last six meetings.
2. Minnesota scored 51 points against Iowa in 2014 and 35 in defeat last season. The 86 combined points over two years are the most Minnesota has scored against Iowa since the 1936-37 seasons. Minnesota won 52-0 in 1936 and 35-10 in 1937 to score a combined 87 points. Guiding the Gopher offense in the past two games against Iowa has been quarterback Mitch Leidner. The senior is 1-1 against Iowa, but has been impressive against the Hawkeyes. In his two combined games against Iowa, Leidner has rushed 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown and has completed 29-of-40 passes (72.5%) for five touchdowns and no interceptions.
3. Minnesota has scored 145 through four games this year (36.2 average) under new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. The last time Minnesota scored at least 145 points through the first four games of the season was 2008 when it combined to score 145 against Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic. The last time Minnesota scored more than 145 points in the first four games of the season when it played a Big Ten game was 2005. The Gophers combined to score 185 points against Tulsa, Colorado State, Florida Atlantic and Purdue.
4. Through four games, Minnesota has had three running backs record 100-yard games in Rodney Smith (125 vs Oregon State, 104 at Penn State), Shannon Brooks (100 at Penn State) and Kobe McCrary (176 vs Indiana State). This is the first time that Minnesota has had three running backs notch 100-yard games in a season since 2007 when Amir Pinnix (168 vs Bowling Green, 126 vs Miami (Ohio)), Jay Thomas (100 vs Northwestern) and Duane Bennett (106 vs Michigan) did it.
5. Shannon Brooks has rushed for nine career touchdowns (has also passed for one career touchdown, 42 yards to Drew Wolitarsky at Iowa last season) and has covered 281 yards while doing so. That means the sophomore averages 31.2 yards per touchdown. His seven scores last year came from 75, 71, 40, 38, five and three yards (twice) and he has scored from 37 and nine yards this season. A year ago, he became the first Gopher since Laurence Maroney in 2005 to have four touchdown runs longer than 35 yards in one season, as Maroney had scoring runs of 93 yards (Wisconsin), 73 (Tulsa), 67 (Tulsa) and 38 (Florida Atlantic). For his career, Brooks has 146 carries for 894 yards and a 6.1 average.
Iowa players to watch
1) C.J. Beathard, quarterback: While Iowa's been struggling some the last few weeks, you can't put a lot of blame of their senior signal caller and he's thrown five touchdowns to two interceptions and his yards per completion is over 10. Iowa is a team that really wants to establish things on the ground as Beathard has only thrown 22, 23 and 27 times in his last games. He's been efficient with the completions he's had, and the issue has been Iowa's offensive line has had Beathard pressured a lot recently. Minnesota's going to need to get home on some of these sacks.
2) Josey Jewall, linebacker: Why Iowa's defense struggled some on Saturday giving up 38 points at home to the Northwestern Wildcats, that's not to the fault of stud linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewall's tackle totals from the last three games go: 11 tackles against NDSU, 12 total with a half tackle for loss against Rutgers and 16 total tackles with 1.5 for loss and a half sack against Northwestern on Saturday. Jewall is playing at a high level right now coming into the Minnesota game.
3) Desmond King, corner: 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. King has four passes broken up in the last three games, and it's obvious that teams aren't willing to throw at King anymore.
Keys to the game
1. Don't beat yourself twice: Minnesota obviously lost a tough game on the road last week and coming into Iowa week, you can't let Penn State beat you twice. The Gophers had many opportunities to win the game on Saturday, and they let one slip by them, but you have to move on to this Iowa game and put the Nittany Lions behind you. This is about as ideal of a bounce back spot as you can ask for coming back home to face a big rival, who is reeling in their own right after losing two of their last three, and the next five games are very winnable for the Golden Gophers. Have to come in with a fresh mindset against the Hawkeyes at home.
2. Get the running game going, and stop the chunk plays: Minnesota on the season is averaging 228 yards a game on the ground and has scored 12 times on the ground through four games. Opposing offenses against the Hawkeyes over their last three games have put up 239 yards (4.9 ypc), 193 yards (3.6 ypc) and 198 yards (4.7 ypc) on the ground, so again on paper, this looks like a situation where the Gophers can exploit their opponent on the ground as they did last week against Penn State. If that's going to happen, the Gophers offensive line has to continue to get better on their reads in power and zone, and Minnesota has to give Shannon Brooks 20 carries. Rodney Smith is a talent running back and that goes without saying as he's rushed for 100 yards twice already through four games, but Shannon Brooks averages over six yards a carry over his career for a reason, as he's a home run threat on every play. I'd even go as far as saying he's Minnesota's best weapon on offense, and for him to not get 20 touches every game going forward, is not ideal for the Gophers success.
Penn State had gains of 23, 25, 26, 32, 36, 53, 53 and 80 yards on the day, which totals 328 (69.6%) of their 471 yards on the day. Meaning on the other 61 plays that Penn State ran on the day, they only averaged 2.3 yards per play. Minnesota can't keep up giving up big gain after big gain to halt the momentum they're building, and that has to start to change on Saturday. Both defenses are susceptible to the big play right now, and the Gophers have to emerge as the victor that doesn't give up the most chunk plays on Saturday.
3. Clean up the penalties: 35 penalties through four games, and while we all know that's unacceptable, it needs to start changing. Minnesota gave away free first downs last week against Penn State by jumping off-sides twice and some personal fouls, and that can't keep happening. You can't give away free possessions in the Big Ten and expect to win. The team discipline needs to start to correct itself and it needs to start in a home game against Iowa.
Before I dig into things more here, I want to make sure people know these three stats.
- In his two combined games against Iowa, Leidner has rushed 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown and has completed 29-of-40 passes (72.5%) for five touchdowns and no interceptions.
- Minnesota and Iowa are 3-3 in their last six meetings.
- Minnesota scored 51 points against Iowa in 2014 and 35 in defeat last season. The 86 combined points over two years are the most Minnesota has scored against Iowa since the 1936-37 seasons.
Looking at the state of both teams coming into this weekend, I'm still not sure why Iowa is considered the favorite on the road. Sure, Minnesota lost last week against Penn State, but I think we can all agree that's a game that the Gophers had every opportunity to win. The Hawkeyes have lost two of their last three games including two straight at home, and they've lost their top receiving threat in Matthew VandeBerg.
As you can see from the stats above, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner has played well in his last two meetings with Iowa, and because of that, Minnesota's offense has done their part. Knowing that Iowa is struggling against the run, I expect a heavy dose of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. It's also key to note that Leidner is taking care of the ball through four games with only two turnovers total, and he'll be potentially have Rashad Still back, so Minnesota may have a vertical element to their passing game again.
Plugging in Antoine Winfield at safety to start next to Damarius Travis seems like the logical fit, and Minnesota gets back former starting corner KiAnte Hardin, and linebacker Carter Coughlin to help bolster this defense.
I see this as a spot for Minnesota to show the rest of the Big Ten that the Gophers still have a legitimate shot at things in the West, and I see Minnesota coming back at home to grab the Floyd of Rosedale.