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Getting You Set: Iowa vs. Minnesota, Preview & Prediction

Iowa Minnesota

The battle for the Floyd of Rosedale heads to Iowa City, a place Minnesota has not won in over two decades. You have to go back to 1999 to find the last Golden Gopher victory inside Kinnick Stadium. Floyd has now lived in Iowa City for eight seasons, the longest streak in the history of this border rivalry. Both programs have been dealing with the injury bug this season, and both offenses have been among the worst in the Power Five. The game on Saturday has a chance to break the record for the lowest closing points total. 

The Opponent

It’s not certain, but likely, that Minnesota will have Darius Taylor back in the backfield for Saturday against Iowa. He’ll have the help of Zach Evans who’s been reliable in his absence, and Minnesota will need to rely on their run game in this contest. If there’s an area that they can exploit on this Hawkeye defense, it’s going to have to be that defensive front. Iowa is 75th nationally in success rate against the run. It’s only allowed one rushing touchdown on the year, but it’s allowing 3.8 yards per carry on first down. That number climbs to four yards per carry on second down. 

The Hawkeyes are also faced with some question marks up front defensively. Through Wednesday, Yahya Black has yet to practice this week. He finished last game with five quarterback pressures and a forced fumble on a sack. Joe Evans is another player dealing with injury on the defensive line. He didn’t practice all of last week leading up to the Wisconsin game and played about half of his usual snap count in the game. Neither of these players has been ruled out for Saturday, but it’s something Minnesota will look to take advantage of.

The Golden Gopher passing game has not been consistent this season. We’ve seen Athan Kaliakmanis have flashes of the four-star quarterback he was as a recruit. But we’ve also seen the second-year starter make first-year misses. The Hawkeye secondary is not a group he’s likely to find his rhythm against, so it’s likely the Gophers look to the ground early and often. With what’s likely to be two healthy running backs, their offense has the horsepower to do so. 

The Opening Sequence

Since 2019, Iowa has started each of its games against Minnesota with success on offense. In 2019, the Hawkeyes scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 20-0 lead. In 2020, Iowa scored touchdowns on two of their first four possessions. Iowa took a 10-3 lead on Minnesota after its first two possessions in 2021. Last season, the Hawkeyes completed a 58-yard pass on the first play of the game and took a 10-0 lead after the first two drives. 

With a lead of eight points or more at any time in a game, Iowa is 69-2 since the 2015 season. All four of the Minnesota games mentioned above are in that win column. Getting a touchdown behind Iowa at any point in a game has proven to be near-impossible to overcome in the last eight seasons. For the Golden Gophers, that deficit has come very early in games against Iowa. 

On Saturday, one of the more intriguing things to keep an eye on will be Brian Ferentz’s opening script against Joe Rossi’s defense. In each of the last four meetings between these two rivals, Iowa drove the field at least 64 yards for a touchdown on one of its first two possessions. Further, Iowa has averaged 49.8 yards on its four opening drives against Minnesota dating back to 2019. The first few series for the Hawkeyes on Saturday will be indicative of which way the game will lean. If the trend continues, Minnesota will be faced with a tough deficit. If Rossi finds success early, it could make a big difference in the latter points of this game.

Explosive Plays

One of the areas that Minnesota’s defense struggles is allowing explosive plays. Under Rossi, this has been a theme over the years. Thus far in 2023, Minnesota is 11th in the Big Ten allowing 24 plays of 20-plus yards. The Iowa offense is bad, but it’s capitalized on big plays this season.

In Iowa’s five Power Five games this year, it has scored five offensive touchdowns. All five touchdowns were either scored on or set up by plays of more than 20 yards. Against Wisconsin and Purdue, Iowa scored on an 82-yard rush, and a 67-yard rush, respectively. Iowa’s other touchdown against Purdue was a 22-yard pass. Against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes’ lone offensive touchdown was set up by a 35-yard pass. Jaziun Patterson also recorded a 59-yard rush in the game to set up a field goal. Iowa’s only offensive score against the Spartans was set up by passing plays of 32 and 17 yards. 

The Hawkeye offense ranks 131st nationally in rushing success rate entering this weekend against Minnesota. In isolated rushing explosiveness, Iowa is 51st nationally. That’s because Iowa is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, but has six rushes of more than 30 yards. The dramatic difference in these two metrics is not sustainable, but it has been the sliver of difference between a win and a loss. If you take away Iowa’s long touchdown runs against Wisconsin and Purdue, those are likely both losses. 

Getting You Set: Iowa vs. Minnesota, Preview

This game will probably come down to whether or not the Golden Gophers can get off to a good start defensively. If you look at Big Ten play thus far, Iowa has been pretty good on the scripted drives. It has scored on one of its first two possessions in two of its four Big Ten games. Last week its first two drives totaled 20 plays for 80 yards, but no points. Even against Penn State, Iowa put together drives of 24 and 30 yards before a fumble that turned every bit of momentum. Ferentz is routinely criticized as the offensive coordinator, but his script plays traditionally work well, especially against Minnesota. 

The other difference maker in this game will be if Iowa can break loose for another explosive play on the Gophers. Last year in Minneapolis, it was a big pass to open the game for Iowa. In 2021, it was a diving catch for 34 yards by Charlie Jones early in the second quarter. Jones also hauled in a 73-yard touchdown pass in that contest. Nothing indicates an Iowa big play will come in the form of a pass, but the Hawkeye run game has won its team football games this year by finding explosiveness on the ground. 

The Golden Gophers’ last win in Iowa City was Kirk Ferentz’s first season as head coach. That Iowa team finished 1-10. If there was ever a year the streak figured to end, signs point to this being it. Iowa is without its starting quarterback, both of its tight ends are out for the season, and their third tight end Addison Ostrenga is questionable for Saturday. Deacon Hill has just 262 passing yards since taking over three weeks ago. The Hawkeye offense is non-serious in the eyes of many.

The Last Word

But this coaching staff knows who they are. Iowa will stifle you on defense, it will win the field position battle with Tory Taylor’s punting, and the offense will break a big run when it looks as if nothing is working. The combination of these three factors is no easy feat to overcome, despite its visual appearance. 

Prediction

Iowa – 18

Minnesota – 7

Iowa Minnesota
Photo courtesy: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

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