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Minnesota Football vs Iowa: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

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This team puts the “ugh” in “ugly,” amirite?

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach P.J. Fleck said in his postgame press conference — after the Iowa Hawkeyes buried the Minnesota Golden Gophers 48-31 to retain the Floyd of Rosedale for the fourth consecutive season — that he told the team, “I’m disappointed, very disappointed. However, I saw a ton of growth.” Not so sure I agree, but keep rowing that boat.

I’ll be honest, if I’m more salty than usual it’s because I hate losing. But more than that, I can’t stand losing to the Hawkeyes, specifically. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not really interested in buying into Fleck’s dubious silver lining this morning.

So let’s get this over with, shall we?

The Elite

The Gophers’ run defense. This was a point of emphasis for me going into this game after Minnesota allowed Maryland to run wild two weeks ago, racking up 315 rushing yards. The Gophers were much improved in this regard against Iowa, limiting the Hawkeyes to 106 rushing yards on 40 attempts (2.7 yards per carry). Granted, Iowa does not have the same kind of athletes at running back as the Terps, but I was very impressed with how Minnesota was able to stifle the Hawkeyes’ ground game for the most part.

Carter Coughlin. Coughlin is a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive line and the Gophers’ lone legitimate pass rush threat. The junior rush end came up with his fifth sack of the season at a most opportune time, stripping Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley to force a fumble into the waiting arms of junior linebacker Thomas Barber inside the Hawkeyes’ 5-yard line. It was one of two turnovers on the afternoon that set up touchdowns for the Gophers.

The wide receivers. If there is a reason to be excited about the Gophers’ future, look no further than their wide receiver corps. Junior Tyler Johnson led the way with six receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown, but true freshman Rashod Bateman (seven receptions, 65 yards, two touchdowns) and redshirt freshman Chris Autman-Bell (three receptions, 61 yards) were right behind him. I also want to give a shoutout to Autman-Bell for this highlight reel catch:

The chrome helmets. I liked them.

The Meh

Zack Annexstad. With a true freshman quarterback, you have to take the good with the bad, and Annexstad was equal parts good and bad against Iowa. He threw three touchdown passes, but threw the same number of interceptions. He was sacked five times, and while the offensive line shoulders most of the blame, Annexstad was also part of the problem at times, as he held on to the ball far too long on a couple occasions. He also continues to stare down his first read. His development is ongoing, and these will not be the last of his growing pains.

The Gophers’ running game. It should be clear by now that Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams are not Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. We’ve been spoiled the last three seasons with a pair of game-changing running backs, and if you didn’t appreciate Smith and Brooks already, I hope that you’re able to now. I think both Ibrahim and Williams have promising futures, but unfortunately the Gophers of the present could use an elite talent to spark what has been an otherwise pedestrian rushing attack.

The Ugly

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in his first season. Now my patience is wearing thin. I don’t care that Antoine Winfield, Jr. isn’t on the field. One player does not a defense make. I’m aware that Winfield is one of the best players on that side of the ball, but losing one player does not excuse a complete meltdown. Two weeks ago, it was 42 points and 315 rushing yards against the Terps. Yesterday, it was 48 points — to a Hawkeye squad that put up 38 against FCS Northern Iowa — and 314 passing yards. That is awful by any measure. 90 points allowed in the first two conference games of the season does not bode ahead of a road trip to Ohio State. It also should not bode well for Robb Smith’s employment.

Third down conversions. Iowa was 10-of-19 on third downs. Here is how the Hawkeyes converted each of those third downs:

  • 3rd & 7 - 15 yards
  • 3rd & 8 - 60 yards (TD)
  • 3rd & 1 - 5 yards
  • 3rd & 5 - 12 yards
  • 3rd & 7 - 25 yards
  • 3rd & 9 - 16 yards
  • 3rd & 3 - 26 yards
  • 3rd & 5 - 5 yards (TD)
  • 3rd & 6 - 9 yards
  • 3rd & 9 - 30 yards

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.

The Gophers’ offensive line. I’m not going to repeat myself week after week. If you watched the game, you’re well aware of why the offensive line continues to cement a permanent place here. Right tackle Sam Schlueter, whose pass blocking could be charitably described as ineffective, was replaced in the second half by true freshman Daniel Faalele, who seemed to have more success than his predecessor despite the fact that he is in his third year of playing football.

Turnovers. Four interceptions is a bit much.

Four consecutive losses to Iowa. Honestly, is it much of a rivalry anymore? The Floyd of Rosedale is very much in danger of sharing the same fate as Paul Bunyan’s Axe, with nothing more than the briefest of visits to Minneapolis before returning to enemy territory. Worse even, Hawkeye fans seem more energized by their newfound rivalry with Nebraska. As the Minnesota football program sinks further into irrelevancy, there is nothing more demoralizing than being marginalized by your most hated rivals.