By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz is to Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck what Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is to Kirk Ferentz.
While Brohm has shown an uncanny ability to defeat Ferentz’s Hawkeyes, including 24-7 earlier this season, Ferentz has had his way with Fleck, winning all four games in which they have faced each other.
Last year’s game wasn’t even close as Iowa cruised to a 35-7 victory in Minneapolis.
However, the game will be remembered more for what happened in the closing seconds when Fleck called a timeout when the Gophers had second-and-goal at the Iowa 4 with 19 seconds remaining. Fleck still had his starters in the game and was determined to avoid getting shutout.
But then Ferentz responded by calling three timeouts in what appeared to be Ferentz’s way of showing-up Fleck.
The Gophers scored on the next play to avoid the shutout, but Ferentz’s message was heard loud and clear.
“We figured we’d take Floyd (of Rosedale) with us and leave the timeouts here,” Ferentz joked afterwards.
Now a year later, Iowa will try to make it seven wins in a row against the Gophers, and Ferentz will try to improve his record to 5-0 against Fleck when the teams square off Saturday at a sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
Both teams are 4-2 in conference play, but neither has much momentum right now since Minnesota is coming off a disappointing 14-6 loss to Illinois last Saturday at home, while Iowa had to hang on to defeat lowly Northwestern 17-12 last Saturday in Evanston, Illinois after having lost its previous two games to Purdue and Wisconsin by a combined margin of 51-14.
“There’s plenty of opportunity out there for us,” Ferentz said. “Plenty of opportunity for a lot of teams in our conference. It will be interesting to watch see what happens over the next couple of weeks for sure.
“For us, it’s pretty easy, our focus has to be in what’s in front of us three tough competitive games in front of us. It leads into this week certainly with Minnesota coming to town.”
The hot topic surrounding Iowa is at quarterback where Colorado native Alex Padilla is preparing to make his first career start on Saturday.
Padilla, a third-year sophomore, replaced an ailing Spencer Petras late in the first quarter against Northwestern and would go on to lead three scoring drives and pass for 175 yards.
Padilla also showed some mobility in the pocket, and the ability to throw on the run, and both of those skills should be beneficial with the Iowa offensive line struggling in pass protection.
Iowa fans have certainly bought into Padilla, so now it’s just a matter of him performing and getting the job done.
Some fans have been clamoring for a change at quarterback with the offense sputtering for most of the season.
Petras had led Iowa to 12 straight wins dating back to last season before the back-to-back losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, and he had protected the football for the most part.
But when the defense had a rare bad performance against Purdue, the offense failed to pick up the slack as Petras threw four interceptions.
And then against Wisconsin, the offense performed woefully.
The offense also was dreadful against Northwestern during the three possessions Petras played quarterback, and now Padilla has a chance to seize a moment that could change the course of his career as an Iowa quarterback.
Because it would be hard to envision Kirk Ferentz switching back to Petras on a full-time basis if Padilla performs well in a victory on Saturday.
You hate to see a player lose a starting position due partly to being injured.
But there is little mercy in sports, especially big-time college football where winning and losing ultimately decides the fate of everyone.
Petras, despite having modest statistics, kept his starting position for a season-and-a-half because he has won games, and because he had a firm grasp of the offense and the trust and admiration of his teammates and coaches.
But mostly because he won games.
“I can’t say enough about Spencer, what he’s done this year and last year, the way he goes about his business,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I can echo that about Alex. It’s a good room. Those guys are really serious. Spencer and Alex are together a lot. You’ll see them out here eating together a lot. They spend a lot of time together.
“I just can’t say enough about the way Alex just went in and performed. And I’m not a quarterback guru or any of that stuff but you watch players and it made you feel like offense, it’s no big deal he’s ready to go. This is the opportunity he wanted.”
Should Padilla struggle against the Gophers on Saturday, it’ll be interesting to see if Kirk Ferentz gives redshirt freshman and Texas native Deuce Hogan a shot.
Hogan is a fan favorite and the first to commit to Iowa’s 2020 recruiting class. He then helped to recruit other players to the class and that made him even more popular with Iowa fans.
“Deuce has to be ready,” Ferentz said. “And that’s his task. And it’s pretty simple. The medical part of it, or at least what guys can do and can’t do dictates what we’re going to do.
“We have to prepare mentally. Alex is going to be the starter and then Deuce will back him up and we’ll see what we can do with Spencer.”
Padilla would benefit greatly if Iowa could sustain a rushing attack, which has been an ongoing problem this season.
Iowa shredded the Gophers for 235 rushing yards last season, including 140 and two touchdowns from Goodson.
With an effective running game, Padilla would have the luxury of using play action and that’s when the Iowa offense is at its best.
Minnesota averages nearly 100 more rushing yards per game than Iowa, but the Gophers are now down to their fourth-string running back due to injuries.
“They have a real identity,” Ferentz said. “They know who they are what they are and how they do things. Defensively, that’s very clear they’re very veteran, well-coached and know their scheme inside and out and do a great job on special teams.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us. We’ll have to do everything we can to be ready for it on Saturday. Obviously, we are excited to be back at home after being gone for a while.”
In addition to gaining a key conference win, the winner of Saturday’s game also would get, or in Iowa’s case, keep possession of Floyd of Rosedale, the bronze statue of a pig that goes to the winner in this border rivalry.
Iowa is 20-5 in its last 25 rivalry trophy games against Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Iowa also hasn’t trailed in a game against Minnesota since the fourth quarter in 2016, a span of 245 minutes and 28 seconds.
The Iowa defense also should be at close to full strength with the return of starting cornerback Riley Moss, who missed the previous three games due to an injury.
Moss and Iowa safety Dane Belton are among six players in the Big Ten with four interceptions this season.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Minnesota 14
Iowa vs. Minnesota
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Kinnick Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series: Iowa has won six straight games against the Gophers, nine straight at home and 16 of the last 20 games overall. Minnesota holds a 62-50-2 advantage in the series, which dates back to 1891.