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Meet the Iowa Opponent: Minnesota

Iowa Minnesota

Iowa will host Minnesota on Saturday for what will be back-to-back rivalry games in the Big Ten West. The Golden Gophers have not won in Iowa City since Kirk Ferentz’s first season back in 1999. PJ Fleck’s team is off of a bye week after getting run out of their own building by Michigan two weeks ago. Minnesota is 3-3 this season with some ups and downs on the year. However, a win in Iowa City would re-engage that fanbase and serve as a significant momentum shift in its season. Let’s take a look at this team and what they’ll bring to Iowa City.

Golden Gophers on the Ground

Minnesota’s run game will again be the focus for Iowa. There’s no Mo Ibrahim on this roster, but Darius Taylor and Zach Evans have been toting the ball very effectively this season. Taylor sustained a lower-body injury on his 31st carry against Northwestern in September. He was close to coming back for the Michigan game two weeks later. The training staff held him out, seeing that the bye week was next on the slate. It’s highly likely that Taylor will be back against Iowa, and he’s a workhorse. In just four games played this season, Taylor is averaging 131 yards per game with 6.1 yards per attempt and has four rushing touchdowns. 

In his absence, Evans has found his footing in the Minnesota backfield. He tallied 27 carries between his two games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Michigan, for 130 yards and a touchdown. With the anticipated return of Taylor on Saturday, the Golden Gopher backfield will be at full strength with a couple of very talented freshmen. 

The “Greek Rifle”

Calling the signals, Athan Kaliakmanis will start against the Hawkeyes for his second season in a row. The Gopher coaching staff has been all-in on Kaliakmanis since his commitment in 2019 as a member of the 2021 class. So much so, that Fleck and company didn’t recruit a quarterback in their 2020 class, showing their commitment to Kaliakmanis being the future of their program. 

The “Greek Rifle,” as they call him in Minneapolis, has had an underwhelming 2023 season. He has six touchdowns to six interceptions, with just shy of 800 yards and less than six yards per attempt. Kaliakmanis has been up and down this year with how he’s looked in the pocket. In their games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern, he was solid. The quarterback threw for two touchdowns in each game with a completion percentage north of 73% in both. But against North Carolina and Michigan, he was not good. In Chapel Hill, the Golden Gophers had several good looks in the passing game, but Kaliakmanis was missing his targets. He finished with a 36.7% completion percentage with one interception. Michigan came to town, and Kaliakmanis’ first completion of the game was to the other team. The Wolverines returned the interception for a touchdown just 12 seconds into the game. 

The upside for Kaliakmanis is what has Gopher Nation excited, but they have yet to see it consistently. It flashed against Wisconsin last year and in short doses this season, but the consistency isn’t in place. The Minnesota quarterback will be faced with another one of the nation’s toughest defenses in Iowa this weekend. 

Joe Rossi Defense

Defensively, the Golden Gophers have playmakers, but they haven’t been a typical Joe Rossi defense thus far. They gave up 52 points to Michigan two weeks ago, but not many of Michigan’s opponents can say otherwise. On the season, they’re allowing 373 yards per game which is 11th in the Big Ten. 

In the front seven, Minnesota has a couple of great players. Kyler Baugh is 6’-2” and 305 pounds at interior defensive line. He and Danny Striggow at edge rusher lead the team in tackles for loss with 4.5 and four, respectively. When you take a step back to linebacker, it’s Minnesota’s leading tackler in Maverick Baranowski. The redshirt freshman has emerged earlier than expected in a Gopher uniform and has 42 tackles, five quarterback pressures, and a couple of pass breakups on the season. 

Minnesota’s secondary is led by safeties Tyler Nubin and Darius Green. There are a couple of veterans in the Rossi defense, but it’s Nubin that really stands out. He leads the Golden Gopher defense with an 82.2 defensive grade according to Pro Football Focus. On 213 coverage snaps this season, he has not allowed a touchdown and has recorded three interceptions. 

 

Iowa Minnesota
Photo courtesy: Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK

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