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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #9 Iowa Hawkeyes


Not something the Gophers want to see on November 8th.
Not something the Gophers want to see on November 8th.
Matthew Holst

We are getting closer and closer to the start of the 2014 Gopher Football season! We here at The Daily Gopher will continue our quick previews of the Gophers opponents. November is now upon us, and the toughest stretch of the Gophers schedule begins.  Next up is the Battle for Floyd against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Name: Iowa Hawkeyes
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Enrollment: 31,065
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
Notable Alumni: John Irving, Tom Arnold, Gene Wilder, Lou Holtz, Chuck Long, Bob Stoops, Bret Bielema
Bill Connelly Preview Link: Here!

Last Season:

Iowa started off the 2013 season looking like it was going to continue to regress as it had at the end of the 2012 season, by losing to Northern Illinois.  However, the Hawkeyes turned it around and finished with an 8-5 record including 5-3 in the Big Ten.  They did avoid bad losses in the Big Ten for once, only losing games to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State.  They tacked on a 23-7 win over Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium as well.  They then were granted a berth in the Gator Bowl where they almost knocked off LSU but couldn't pull it out in the end losing by a touchdown.  The Hawkeyes' offense wasn't very impressive last season as then ended the year ranked 80th in the nation, but the defense was one of the best they have had in a while, finishing ninth in the nation.

Key Losses:

The biggest loss on offense for the Hawkeyes will be tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.  He caught 30 passes for 299 yards last season for Iowa, so it won't even be that huge of a loss. The offensive line will be another location where Iowa will see some players missing.  Right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Connor Boffeli have both moved on, leaving holes in the line.

Defensively, Iowa will be hurt more by departures then on the offensive side of the ball.  The defensive line will remain mostly intact with the exception of end Dominic Alvis. Alvis had five tackles for loss in ten games last year.  The biggest loss will be felt in the linebacker corps, as all three starters from a year ago are now gone.  Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, and James Morris were one of the best groups of linebacker Kirk Ferentz has had at Iowa, but all three will need to be replaced in 2014.  The departing  linebackers combined for 11.5 sacks,  35.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, six forced fumbles last season.  That's a lot of production to replace. Iowa also will have two holes in the secondary to fill as cornerback B.J. Lowrey and full safety Tanner Miller are now gone.  Lowrey will be a huge loss coming off of a 2013 season where he had 16 pass breakups and three interceptions.  Iowa will also have to find a replacement for kicker Mike Meyer who leaves after going a perfect 41-41 on PATs last year.

Key Returners:

Offensively, Iowa is in good shape as far as returning players go.  Quarterback Jake Ruddock is back for his junior season after throwing for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013.  He also added in 271 yards on the ground.  He will have plenty of people to hand the ball of to as well in 2014, as AIRBHG didn't seem to find Iowa City in 2013.  All three leading backs return for Iowa, Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, and Jordan Canzeri.  The three combined for just under 1,900 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, and will see plenty of action in 2014.  Ruddock also has his top two receivers from 2013 back in the fold.  Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tavaun Smith combined for 66 catches for almost 700 yards a season ago, and will be expected to do more this year if Iowa's offense is to improve.  On the offensive line, three Hawkeyes return, anchored by 2013 1st Team All-Big Ten, 2014 Preseason All-American and projected 2015 First Round NFL Draft Pick Brandon Scherff at left tackle.

Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy

Defensively, Iowa returns the majority of its defensive line,which will need to cover for replacements in the linebackers and secondary.  The top four linesmen for Iowa only return 7.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, and will be asked to do more in 2014.  In the secondary, Iowa returns safety John Lowdermilk and corner Desmond King.  King was second on the team with eight PBUs, and will have to play stronger to cover the load left by Lowrey.

Martin-Manley is also one of the best punt returners in the Big Ten, having averaged 15.7 yards per return and two touchdowns in 2013.

Question Marks??

The major question for Iowa will be can they stay healthy?  AIRBHG has allready shown its ugly head this fall as Adam Cox who was to be the Hawkeyes starting fullback tore his ACL and will miss the season. Iowa doesn't have amazing depth at several positions on defense, and not many substitutes saw game action in 2013.  The one place they do seem to have depth at the moment is at the running back position ironically.  If Iowa can stay healthy, success may await.

Secondly will be how the offense will play.  Iowa has relied on their running game for the majority of their success recently, and Mark Weisman has been a big portion of that.  Iowa still needs to find a few more threats to catch the ball, or they can become too one-dimensional. While their running game should still be good enough to beat many teams, if they want to complete for the Big Ten West, they will have to develop a good passing threat.

Thirdly, can Iowa take advantage of arguably the easiest schedule in the Big Ten and get to Indianapolis.  If the Hawkeyes play up to their potential, there is no real reason why they should not be 8-0 coming into the Battle for Floyd.  If they beat the Gophers, 10-0 should be inevitable going into their last two Big Ten games, both at home in Kinnick Stadium against Wisconsin and Nebraska.  The schedule doesn't get much more favorable for a team trying to win the Big Ten, unless you are another neighboring team to the east of both these teams...but we can talk about that on Friday.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers seemed to have Iowa's number at TCF Bank Stadium after their come from behind heart-stoppers in both 2010 and 2011.  However, Iowa seemed to work out the kinks in a 23-7 victory over Minnesota at TCF last year that frankly, wasn't even that close.  The Hawkeyes will present a stiff charge again in 2014, and when there are bronze pigs involved, you can throw out the records sometimes.  Iowa's running game has given the Gophers fits in the recent past see Coker, Marcus in 2011 and Weisman in 2012 and 2013.  The Gophers will need to dedicate themselves to stop the run and make Jake Ruddock beat you through the air.  Martin-Manley is a quality receiver, but should hopefully be limited by Eric Murray and the rest of the good Gopher secondary in coverage.  On defense, Iowa will be filling some major holes in the linebackers and secondary.  Luckily for them this game is not until November, so things should have stabilized by then.  However, Iowa still looks like it should have some weaknesses in the middle of their defense.  The Gophers will need to attach these weaknesses by having a good run game, and having Mitch Leidner attack the middle of the field using Maxx Williams and a host of additional slot receivers to put pressure on the linebackers.  If the Gophers can attack the holes Iowa gives them, Floyd might be able to not have to make the long ride back to Iowa City.

Final Analysis:

This is always a crapshoot.  We are getting late enough into the season that all predictions are pretty much meaningless.  However, you know it will be a good game.  These teams do not like one another, and will fight their tails off to make sure they get to keep that big ass pig.  Minnesota has ways to win this game, they just need to execute.  If the Gophers can stop the run game and click on offense, they should be able to use the home crowd to their advantage.   It will be a dogfight to the finish, but I think they get it done.  Floyd stays home and the Gophers win by 4.