Can Minnesota Extend Their Win Streak When They Face Iowa?
Can Minnesota extend its win streak as the Hawkeyes roll into town? Floyd of Rosedale is on the line, and a Big Ten West championship is still a possibility. In some ways, these teams resemble each other greatly:
- Each is ranked in the top 10 in total defense, and top 15 against the run
- Each is very inconsistent in the passing game, and is led in touchdown catches by a tight end with two
- Both are strongest defensively in the backfield, with 12 interceptions, led by a DB with four
- Both are currently on three-game winning streaks
So can 7-3 Minnesota extend their current win streak against 6-4 Iowa? It will be a tall task.
Two Run-Heavy Teams, and Two Good Run Defenses
The stingy Hawkeyes’ defense is allowing just 88.6 yards per game on the ground. However, that includes games against some teams with very weak ground games. They’ve faced two rushers this season that we would consider comparable to Mohamed Ibrahim– Michigan’s Blake Corum and Illinois’ Chase Brown. Brown carried 31 times for 146 yards, Corum for 133 yards and a touchdown. Both games were Iowa losses.
The Gophers have struggled mightily in the passing game this season. It’s again unclear who will start at quarterback, but it almost doesn’t matter. Tanner Morgan has the experience that comes with being a six-year starter; he reads defenses well, goes through his progressions quickly, and gets rid of the ball. Athan Kaliakmanis is raw, but he’s more athletic, more likely to pick up yards with his feet, and has a huge arm for a nineteen-year-old. Either way, they’re going to have to lean heavily on Ibrahim against the Hawkeyes, who rank third in FBS in total defense. Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press points out that Minnesota has run the ball 32 times in their three losses, and 52 times in their seven wins.
As for Iowa’s run game, Kaleb Johnson has come on of late. After carrying 14 times in the Hawkeyes’ first three games combined, he’s had double-digit rushes in six of the seven games since. The freshman ran 22 times in each of the team’s last two games, and rushed for 200 yards in their win over Purdue. Given his success, and the team’s struggles in the passing game, expect him to factor into the game plan heavily.
In the Trenches
Here’s one area where Minnesota and Iowa are very different. Only thirteen teams have allowed more sacks than the Hawkeyes this season. Spencer Petras, who has taken the vast majority of snaps for Iowa, has been taken down 30 times. Normally, teams would think about chipping a tight end to help the offensive line. But when one tight end is your leading receiver in terms of yardage, and the other leads you in touchdown catches, that becomes a less desirable option. We don’t expect to see Iowa do much of it. Minnesota’s defense has 16 sacks, led by the emerging Danny Striggow with three and a half.
Iowa’s defense, on the other hand, has 28 sacks. Minnesota’s offensive line has given up 10 all year. That will be a battle to watch.
Avoiding turnovers is easier said than done against both of these teams. Each has 12 interceptions; Minnesota has recovered four fumbles, and Iowa has six. Tyler Nubin and Cooper DeJean lead the Gophers and Hawkeyes, respectively, with four interceptions apiece.
Minnesota hasn’t won this annual face-off since administering a 51-14 thumping in 2014. P.J. Fleck is 0-7 against Iowa since his arrival in the Twin Cities. Even in their 10-2, Outback Bowl-winning 2019 season, the Gophers fell to Iowa a week after upsetting #4 Penn State.
So can Minnesota extend its win streak? We could see this game go either way, probably decided by a touchdown or less. The Gophers need to avoid another of their slow starts, and to find success on the ground. If they’re forced to pass, either because they can’t get the run game going or because they’re trailing, they’re in trouble.
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