Three straight losses have left the Gophers readjusting their thinking. They will be going bowling somewhere — still a magnificent upgrade over last year's one-win season — but it won't be a New Year's Day bowl. Minnesota needs a victory over rival Iowa to ensure a best possible scenario. Right now, that looks like the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas (Dec. 29), the Insight Bowl in Phoenix (Dec. 31) or the Motor City Bowl in Detroit (Dec. 26).
"Those are the three scenarios for us," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "If we win the game (against Iowa), obviously we will improve our bowl status."
Doing that would mean ending a three-game skid, including losses to underachieving teams Wisconsin and Michigan. Now they'll face an Iowa team that upended Penn State and is limiting opponents to 14.4 points per game. It would still be a tremendous turnaround from last season, but closing the year with four-straight losses would sap all the momentum and excitement from Minnesota's 7-1 start.
"We just really have to put it all together as a team," defensive tackle Garrett Brown told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "We haven't had a game yet this season that's had special teams, defense and offense all playing at a very productive level. Until we have that, we're just not going to be where we want to be."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Eric Decker's return should provide a huge lift to an offense that needs all the help it can get. The running game has been lacking all season, and there is little reason to think it will turn around against Iowa, which has a pair of nasty defensive tackles in Mitch King and Matt Kroul. RB Shady Salamon is beginning to take some carries away from DeLeon Eskridge, who seems to be fading as the season progresses. All of which leaves Decker as the best offensive weapon, aside from QB Adam Weber.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers are wounded after surrendering 29 points to Michigan and allowing Wisconsin to rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit. Now they get Iowa tailback Shonn Greene, who leads the nation with 1,585 rushing yards. The bright spot this week is Minnesota's ability to force turnovers. The Gophers lead the league with 30 takeaways, and Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been a turnover machine at times this year.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa at Minnesota, Nov. 22 — The Gophers will play their final game in the Metrodome against their rival in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale — a bronzed pig. The Gophers drag a three-game losing streak into the regular season finale, while Iowa will try to prop up the slim Heisman hopes of tailback Shonn Greene. Greene leads the nation with 1,585 rushing yards, but seems to be getting trampled by Big 12 and SEC candidates in the Heisman race. Next season, Minnesota will move into its much-anticipated, open air on-campus stadium.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Adam Weber — Has thrown for 2,458 yards and ranks second on the team with 200 rushing yards. More impressively, he has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.
WR Eric Decker — Didn't play against Wisconsin, but should be back in the lineup for the Hawkeyes. That's important. Decker has team-highs of 74 catches, 892 yards and six touchdowns. No one else is even close.
FS Tramaine Brock — With Lee Campbell out and Kyle Theret still not 100 percent, Brock will be counted on to slow Iowa's Shonn Greene. It won't be easy. Greene has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're fortunate to play a game like this after such an emotional game against Wisconsin. If we were just playing another team, that's hard, psychologically, to get back up. But I think our guys, we'll do a good job as a staff making these guys understand how well they played in the [Wisconsin] game." — Coach Tim Brewster, on playing a rivalry game a week after a tough loss