Minnesota just needs to win its finale this Saturday to complete a remarkable — and record-setting — regular season.
The Gophers have a difficult assignment in going on the road against Iowa. However, they have the most powerful running game in the country and most likely will have QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq back in the lineup.
Abdul-Khaliq appeared to be directing the Gophers to a rout of Wisconsin last week when he went out of the game with a shoulder injury late in the second quarter. At the time, the Gophers had a 24-13 lead and had not been stopped on offense.
It was feared that Abdul-Khaliq had separated his non-throwing shoulder, but further tests revealed no such injury. Benji Kamrath did a workmanlike job in his absence, but the Gophers are a much more dangerous team with Abdul-Khaliq behind center.
The Gophers are the top-ranked running team in the country as they average 303.9 yards per game. They will be facing a hard-hitting Iowa defense that has done well against the run — 80.2 yards per game — and is known for its ability to keep opponents from turning the corner.
In addition to the running of Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Tapeh and Asad Abdul-Khaliq, the Gophers have gotten a great deal of mileage from running reverses to their wide receivers. Those plays — often to rangy and fast wide receiver Jared Ellerson — have often broken for big yards.
A win over the Hawkeyes will give the Gophers their first 10-win season ever and likely will give them a spot in a New Year's Day bowl game.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Much depends on the health of QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who was forced out of the Wisconsin game with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. He should be in the lineup against the Hawkeyes, but at what strength? While Iowa is tough to run against, the Gophers will not go away from their forte. Expect a heavy dose of Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney and Thomas Tapeh.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gopher defense has problems defending the pass. The Hawkeyes have not excelled at throwing the ball this season, but the return of WR Maurice Brown makes them much more dangerous. Brown has speed and toughness — think of Steeler WR Hines Ward — and could dominate the Gopher secondary.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's never hard to retool when you have your rivalries back-to-back. You got Wisconsin and Iowa. That's like a dream when you're playing for trophies and playing for the 10th win of the season and perhaps a chance to go to a big-time bowl game on January 1." — Minnesota DT Darrell Reid to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on playing Wisconsin and Iowa in back-to-back games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Iowa, Nov. 15 — Another high-scoring game could be in the offing, as the Gophers have a strong offense and the Hawkeyes have the weapons to take advantage of Minnesota's soft play against the pass. Both teams want this game badly, but the advantage could swing to Iowa since it is playing at home. The Gophers have lost the last two games in the series.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Laurence Maroney — The freshman is 79 yards away from going over the 1,000-yard mark. If he gets there — either in this game or the upcoming bowl game — Minnesota will have five players on their active roster who have run for 1,000 yards or more. Terry Jackson, Marion Barber, Thomas Tapeh and Asad Abdul-Khaliq have already reached that milestone. No team has ever had more than three active 1,000-yard rushers prior to these Gophers.
WR Aaron Hosack — He is the kind of receiver who can make big plays and keep a drive going. His catch in the waning moments last week against Minnesota put the Gophers in a position to win the game on Rhys Lloyd's game-ending 35-yard field goal against Wisconsin.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Ben Utecht's pulled stomach muscle will likely keep him out of the lineup against Iowa. ... QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq is listed as questionable, but he will likely play at Iowa.