The Floyd of Rosedale is back in Iowa City for another year. All the Iowa Hawkeyes needed was a 54-yard rushing touchdown from Akrum Wadley in the fourth quarter to top the Minnesota Golden Gophers 14-7 in an ugly rivalry game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. It was essentially a pillow fight between two bad football teams, but the Gophers proved that they were much worse than their counterparts from Iowa. Let’s break down the ugliness from this ugly game between two ugly Big Ten teams.
KiAnte Hardin. Welcome back! It didn’t take long for the sophomore cornerback to make an impact in his first game back from suspension. Just after Rodney Smith coughed up a fumble, Hardin snatched it back with a heads up interception on a deep pass to the end zone. The secondary was much improved with Hardin back in the defensive backfield, and he finished the game with seven tackles.
The defense. Aside from the 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter — which was forgivable considering how much the defense was on the field thanks to an incompetent offense — the Gopher defense played lights out for most of the game. Even when Iowa reached the red zone, this defense held strong and forced Iowa to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. The Hawkeyes were also 6-for-17 on third down. And for a defense that has struggled to create turnovers, the Gopher defense came up big against Iowa. Hardin and freshman linebacker Kamal Martin both snagged interceptions, and linebacker Nick Rallis stripped wide receiver Riley McCarron for a fumble. All three turnovers came in Minnesota territory too.
This defense held the Hawkeyes to one touchdown and played well even when the Gopher offense continued to set them up for failure time and time again. But it was a wasted effort thanks to an inept offensive performance that hung them out to dry.
Shannon Brooks. Brooks scored the Gophers’ lone touchdown of the game and did nothing to hurt his team, therefore this is where he belongs. The fact that he finished the game with 10 carries is ridiculous. When you’re going to ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prized stallion in the stable.
Ryan Santoso. Since transitioning from kicker to punter, Santoso has been solid, but that was not the case against Iowa. The Gophers lost the field position battle and much of the blame for that lies with the offense, but Santoso didn’t help matters either. He punted nine times and only once pinned the Hawkeyes inside their own 20-yard line. His worst mistake was a 30-yard punt out of bounds at the Iowa 46 that would led to a 54-yard rushing touchdown by Akrum Wadley.
Penalties. The Gophers are the most penalized team in the Big Ten. You’re not going to win a lot of football games when you’re the best in your conference at drawing a flag. Minnesota amassed eight penalties for 58 yards compared to four penalties for 32 yards for Iowa. And most of the penalties were on offense, where a holding or a false start or a chop block penalty can stall an entire drive. The Gophers have been undisciplined all season long and the onus is on the coaching staff to address that.
The offensive playcalling. If there was an actual offensive game plan, it must’ve been unimaginative and uninspiring. Shannon Brooks had just three carries in the first half for a total of 24 yards (8 yards per carry). Meanwhile, the Gopher offense seemed determined to beat the Hawkeyes through the air, which is idiotic considering Iowa hasn’t been able to stop the run. Mitch Leidner didn’t complete a pass until late in the second quarter. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson seemed to get the message when the Gophers marched down the field on their first drive of the second half, using six rushes and two passes to find the end zone. But once the Gophers had the lead, they stopped running the ball. Brooks had three carries the rest of the game. At one point, Johnson called for a quarterback draw on second and long.
The offensive line. The offensive woes all started up front. I’ve used this column to express my doubts about the offensive line in previous weeks and this game was a validation of those concerns. In the words of Tracy Claeys, the Gophers got whipped up front. They weren’t able to get a consistent push in run blocking, and their pass protection was even worse. The Hawkeyes collected two sacks and constantly pressured Mitch Leidner, which led to the worst performance of his senior season. Minnesota has zero depth at this position, but now it is fair to question the talent of the starting five, because they haven’t played like a Big Ten offensive line.
The wide receivers. It was going to be a challenge against the Hawkeyes’ secondary, and clearly the Gophers’ receivers were not up to it. Very few receivers were able to able to find separation throughout the game. When they did, they too often dropped the ball. Drops hadn’t been a huge problem up to this point, but it was painfully obvious against the Hawkeyes that the receivers have trouble holding onto the football. To their credit, Rashad Still and Brian Smith made some incredible catches on the final drive of the game, but it was too little, too late.
Mitch Leidner. For a senior quarterback who has had so much success in his last two games against Iowa, Mitch was a huge disappointment. There were obvious issues on the offensive line and at wide receiver, but Mitch was very much a part of the problem, as well. He finished the game 13-for-33 with 166 passing yards and two interceptions. It was the kind of performance that validates the complaints of his most staunch critics. I’m not about to sell my property on Leidner Island, but I’m not going to make excuses. The Gophers needed Leidner to be better and he wasn’t.
Tracy Claeys’ future at Minnesota. The Gophers are now 0-2 in the Big Ten after two winnable games and, with road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin at the end of the season, are effectively out of contention for the division title. Claeys himself said that the expectation was “8 to 10 wins” prior to the start of the season. At this point, the Gophers will be lucky to go bowling, even with Rutgers, Purdue, and Illinois on the schedule. Personally, I’m done defending Claeys until further notice. I could stomach an overtime road loss to Penn State, but the product he put on the field against Iowa was an embarrassment. There has been nothing impressive about these Gophers, and more bad losses are only going to make athletic director Mark Coyle’s decision easier.