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Hawkeyes Host Gopher Ground Game

Last year, Kirk Ferentz left his three timeouts in Minneapolis and the Hawkeyes took the Floyd of Rosedale with them for the sixth season in a row. Iowa won big in 2020 and has had the upper hand of late in this century-old rivalry series. The game returns to Iowa City this season in what will be an afternoon blackout inside Kinnick Stadium. PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will bring a run-heavy offense into a sold-out crowd on Saturday in what could be a low-scoring battle. Ferentz has won 16 of 22 against the Gophers in his tenure at Iowa and could make it seven in a row. While they have a playmaker on the outside, this Gopher team likes to run the ball. In this edition of the Floyd of Rosedale, the Hawkeyes Host the Gopher ground game.

The Floyd of Rosedale

One of the more unique rivalry trophies in college football is the Floyd of Rosedale. The bronze pig used to be, in fact, a real pig that was exchanged between the two states. After a dispute in the early 1900s regarding the rough play of Minnesota football players, a bet was given by the Governor of Minnesota. Floyd B. Olsen sent a message to Iowa Governor Clyde Herring, betting a Minnesota prize hog that the Gophers would win the game in 1935. If Iowa lost, they would have to deliver an Iowa prize hog. Minnesota went on to win that game, they claimed the prize hog, and the rest is history.

Big-Play Receiver Threat

Minnesota has something on offense that Iowa has had a tendency to struggle with in their recent games. The Gophers have a playmaker at receiver. Senior Chris Autman-Bell has played with some of Minnesota’s great receivers including Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. This season, he is the premier wide-out and has been Tanner Morgan’s dependable target on the outside. After missing the first three games of the season with an injury, he has hauled in 24 receptions for 300 yards. 

What’s more impressive about Autman-Bell this year is his dependability on contested throws. Autman-Bell has been targeted for 10 contested catches on the season, and has come down with eight of them. His 80% clip in contested situations is good for third in the country among all FBS receivers. He shined against Nebraska this year, catching 11 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a fade route in the corner of the near-end zone where he high-pointed the ball while getting interfered with and still managed to get his toes in for the score. It’s these kinds of plays that make Autman-Bell special, and he likely has a future on Sundays.

Against dynamic receivers, the Hawkeyes have been liable to struggle. In the last three contests against the Gophers, Iowa gave up big numbers to Bateman and Johnson. In those three games since 2018, the two combined for 388 reception yards and three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes. The “bend don’t break” mentality of the Iowa defense held strong in those games, however, as they won all three. Autman-Bell is the main target this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Gopher offense looks his way often.

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Hawkeyes Host Gopher Ground Game

Minnesota’s run game has been their go-to all season despite losing their two featured backs. Mohamed Ibrahim injured his lower leg in the first game of the year. Later in the season, Trey Potts was injured in their game against Purdue, which sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Their running game has stayed prevalent with the mixed-use of Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving. The backfield has been very productive, averaging 226 rush yards in the last four games. Of the Gophers’ 590 plays this season, 70% of them have been run plays. Despite the two key injuries, this offense continues to pound the run, and it’s working. 

The Hawkeye defensive front will be tasked with stopping this run on Saturday. To beat the Gophers, Iowa will need to force them to be one-dimensional. Last week, Illinois held Minnesota to just 89 yards on the ground and they gave up just one score. If the Hawkeyes can replicate that defensive performance, they can be successful.

Iowa’s run defense ranks eighth nationally in yards given up, with under 100 per game. More importantly, however, Iowa ranks third nationally in rush defense estimated points added, or EPA for short. EPA translates yards to points in the context in which the yardage is gained. It takes into account the yards gained, the down, and the game situation when computing its numbers. A high offensive EPA is good because that translates to a higher expected points total based on play productivity. On defense, a low EPA is good. Iowa’s rush defense EPA is -0.18. This means the rush defense not only prevents but reduces possible points from being scored on a down-to-down basis. Given the low rush defense EPA, it makes sense they allow less than 100 yards per game. This unique statistic could bode well for Iowa on Saturday against a run-heavy offense.

How Iowa Can Sustain Success

Alex Padilla will get his first start as the Hawkeye quarterback this Saturday against the Gophers. With Spencer Petras battling a shoulder injury, this will be Padilla’s team. He was effective against Northwestern last week, producing three scoring drives. For Iowa to be successful this week, the offense needs to establish the run and Padilla needs to continue to get the ball to his playmakers. Tyler Goodson rushed for 141 yards last week and that opened up the passing game for Padilla. This offense can be effective when operating in two dimensions as they did in Evanston behind their new signal caller and a late-season jolt of momentum. Iowa will look to keep Floyd at home on Saturday afternoon as the Hawkeyes host the Gopher ground game.


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