The Hawkeyes' prospects for the final two games — against Minnesota and Wisconsin — took an upturn because of the return of WR Maurice Brown.
He had missed five games this season because of a knee injury, and the Hawkeyes were nearly one-dimensional without him. Backup WR Ramon Ochoa played with good effort and made several key catches along the way, but the Hawkeyes no longer had a medium-range or deep threat without Brown. They struggled to find their offensive rhythm against Big Ten opponents.
Brown saw some action against Illinois on Nov. 1, and then caught eight passes for 126 yards Saturday against Purdue.
The effectiveness of Iowa's passing game will help determine the outcome of Iowa's final regular-season games, as the Gophers and Badgers are ranked 10th and 11th in pass defense in Big Ten Conference play.
Minnesota is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.3 percent of their passes for 247.4 yards per game. Wisconsin is allowing Big Ten opponents to complete 57.3 percent of their passes for an average of 255.7 yards.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: WR Maurice Brown's dynamic presence back in the lineup should make life easier for RB Fred Russell. His running is still the key to the Iowa running attack, but Minnesota won't be able to key on him. As a result, he should be able to find a few new running lanes.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes will have perhaps their most difficult assignment of the season. The Gophers have the No. 1 rushing attack in the country — 303.9 yards per game — and a surprisingly good passing attack. Asad Abdul-Khaliq has a 17-4 TD-interception ratio and WR Jared Ellerson is a big-play maker. The key to slowing down the Minnesota attack is getting penetration early and preventing their sweep plays from eating up big yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't have a clue who's going to be eligible because there are so many teams with one or two losses. There are seven teams that can virtually end up anywhere." — Capital One Bowl rep Larry Tanzi on the muddled Big Ten bowl picture.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Iowa, Nov. 15 — Both teams are playing for bowl positioning and both bring great offensive teams to the table. Look for a high-scoring game, but Iowa might have the advantage because it is playing at home. The Hawkeyes won 11 straight games at Kinnick Stadium.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Fred Russell — After being held to 35 yards by Purdue, look for a resounding effort by Russell in this game. He is smart, tough and quicker than expected. With backup Jermelle Lewis healthy and productive once again — 56 yards on seven carries vs. the Boilermakers — life is much easier for Russell.
WR Maurice Brown — He had missed five games in a row before getting a touch of action vs. Illinois on Nov. 1. He was at full strength last week with eight catches for 126 yards vs. Purdue. He could have a great day against Minnesota's soft pass defense.
INJURY IMPACT: Wide receiver James Townsend (foot) is expected to miss Saturday's game against Minnesota. Linebackers Kevin Worthy (leg) and Grant Steen (ankle) and defensive lineman Jordan Clauss (ankle) are questionable. Running back Albert Young (leg) is sidelined indefinitely. Offensive lineman Brian Ferentz (knee) and defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux (ankle) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Up next: Iowa
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