IOWA CITY, Iowa – If a Top 5 ranking and the record for the best start in program history weren’t enough to motivate Iowa this week, the bad taste left in the Hawkeyes mouth from last year’s beating they took against Minnesota serves as a reminder of what can happen when a team shows up unready to play.
The Golden Gophers destroyed Iowa, 51-14, last season in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. The Hawkeyes tallied a cosmetic touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“That one stung,” Iowa Linebacker Cole Fisher said. “A loss like that, the whole entire game is just a beating. I think that’s still in the back of a lot of guys’ minds. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
The Hawkeyes (9-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) moved up four spots to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff Rankings this week. A 35-27 win at Indiana Saturday meant they matched the best start in school history accomplished in 2009.
Iowa returns home to face the Gophers (4-5, 1-4) in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale trophy in a night game at Kinnick Stadium (7 p.m., BTN). Minnesota is seeking to end a three-game losing streak, its latest setback coming 28-14 at No 3 Ohio State last weekend.
The Hawkeyes can avenge one of their more forgettable games in recent memory while Minnesota has an opportunity to right its ship during an injury-plagued season.
“That was embarrassing,” Sophomore Running Back Akrum Wadley said of last year’s contest in Minneapolis. “That’s not how we do things around here. We want revenge. We’re hungry. Just like they’re licking their chops to get at us, we’re licking our chops to get back at them.”
The Gophers gashed Iowa for 429 yards, including 291 on the ground. They attained the edge at will.
Iowa scored the game’s first seven points before the home team reeled off 51 unanswered.
“It snowballed. You have games like that,” Minnesota Coach Tracy Claeys said. “We weren’t that many points better than Iowa last year. Good football team. Just so happens between the turnovers and everything, just snowballed, got on a roll, more things went our way that day.
“They’re playing better this year, there’s no question. They’ve kind of gelled. Things are going their way. It will be a tremendous challenge. At the same time, being a trophy game, our kids will be excited. I expect us to play well. It will be a tough environment.”
Minnesota ranks last in the conference in scoring offense (20.3 PPG) while the Hawkeyes are fourth (32.9). Iowa checks in at No. 4 in scoring defense (16.6) while the Gophers are ninth (24.3).
Minnesota has favored the running the last few years with the now-departed David Cobb being featured. In the last two games against Michigan and Ohio State, quarterback Mitch Leidner has thrown a combined 78 passes compared with 61 rushes for the team.
“Take whatever they give us,” Claeys said this week when asked if his team would continue to rely on the pass. “That’s what I tell everybody. If they give you the run, you got to be able to run it. Every defense has a weakness. If they give us the throws, we got to take the throws they give us.”
The Hawkeyes are stingy against the run and pass. They allow 199.4 yards a game through the air and 101.4 one the ground.
On paper, Iowa looks like it should handle the Gophers Saturday. But, it’s a rivalry game and the Hawkeyes are in a position where they’ll receive everybody’s best shot.
“We have total respect for them and we have full firsthand knowledge just how well these guys can play,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You know what kind of team they are. They’ve got a lot of the same players back, and we’re going to have to be at our best. The big thing motivating us right now is just to play our best football this year. That’s what we’re worried about and focused on, and that’s really all we can control.”
Time, TV, Announcers: 7 p.m. CT on BTN with Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Lisa Byington.
The Series: Minnesota leads 62-44-2 after knocking off the Hawkeyes, 51-14, last season in Minneapolis.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 12-point favorite Sunday at Wynn Las Vegas. The number fell to 11.5 by Wednesday.
-Minnesota is 15–4 Against the Spread in its last 19 conference games.
-Iowa is 5-2 ATS in its last 7 games in November.
Match-up to Watch: The Golden Gophers are coming off a game in which they rushed 26 times for 33 yards against Ohio State last week. Now, they face a team ranked three spots ahead of the Buckeyes against the run in the conference.
Leading rushers Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks were slowed by injury in Columbus. Claeys said they’d be evaluated in practice this week to determine their availability on Saturday.
Minnesota’s offense just isn’t explosive enough to outscore the Hawkeyes. The visitors need to be able to shorten the game with an effective rushing attack to set up play action and open things up for Leidner to run.
Rodrick Williams is next in line for carries after Smith and Brooks. He has 29 totes this season.
No opponent has threatened Iowa on the ground this season. The Gophers need to find a way if they want to spring the upset.
Take Note: Iowa Junior Desmond King leads the country with eight interceptions.
Take Note, Take Two: The Hawkeyes own two road wins against ranked opponents (Wisconsin and Northwestern) for the first time since ’02. Alabama is the only other team in the country that can make that claim so far in ’15.
Non-Sports Related: The Mall of America in Bloomington is the size of 78 football fields — 9.5 million square feet.
Did You Know: The first open heart surgery and the first bone marrow transplant in the United States were done at the University of Minnesota.
Did You Also Know: The first Automatic Pop-up toaster was marketed in June 1926 by McGraw Electric Co. in Minneapolis under the name Toastmaster. The retail price was $13.50.
Minnesota wins if…it can reach plus-two in turnovers.
Iowa wins if…it continues to run the ball effectively.
Overview: Minnesota represents the opposite obstacle to what the Hawkeyes faced last week at Indiana. The Hoosiers boast a dangerous offense with little defense. The Gophers hold up well on defense but don’t scare anyone offensively.
Iowa has remained unbeaten through three quarters of the regular season because it’s one of the most well-rounded teams in the conference if not the country. The offense, defense and special teams complement each other well and it hasn’t beaten itself.
All the games become scary at the altitude the Hawkeyes have reached. The target has settled squarely on their backs.
That’s grasping at straws, searching for a reason for Iowa to fall, though. This team shows the type of resiliency and heart to offset letdowns. If it loses, it won’t be from a lack of effort or fight.
Minnesota isn’t a pushover and it’ll probably make this game close enough to create ammunition for the Hawkeye doubters. Iowa emerges with another hard-fought win and becomes an ugly 10-0.
PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Minnesota 17.