clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

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

If Penn State was a step forward, Iowa was a step back

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers climbed high with last week’s win over Penn State, only to fumble away their positive momentum in an ugly 23-19 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Elite

The Minnesota passing attack. Quarterback Tanner Morgan and his elite wide receiver corps did not have a perfect game by any means, but they did nearly everything they could to keep their team in the game. Morgan was 25-of-36 for 368 passing yards, with the vast majority of those yards spread out among Tyler Johnson (nine receptions for 170 receiving yards and one touchdown), Rashod Bateman (six receptions for 98), Demetrius Douglas (four receptions for 60), and Chris Autman-Bell (three receptions for 21). In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

The Gophers’ fight. To their credit, the Gophers did not fold when trailing 20-3 in the first half. Previous Minnesota teams would have let it spiral from there. But the Gophers refused to give up and were able to claw their way back in the second half, outscoring the Hawkeyes 13-3. Unfortunately, it was too little late. They dug themselves too big of a hole.

The Meh

Minnesota is unbeaten no more. I’ll be the first to admit that it sucks to see the Gophers’ undefeated season spoiled by the Hawkeyes. I won’t sugarcoat it. To have experienced the high of beating Penn State last week, only for the party to end in Iowa City this week, is a gut punch. But some perspective: This is the Gophers’ first loss since November 17, 2018. It’s been a heck of a run. They’ll likely drop out of the Top 10 in the rankings with the loss, but they’re still in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West. Beat Wisconsin and they’re in the Big Ten Championship. If I had told you in the preseason that Minnesota would be 9-1 and atop the Big Ten West standings at this point in the season, you’d take it, no questions asked. Don’t disregard that.

The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against P.J. Fleck. Minnesota was facing 4th & 4 at the Iowa 14 late in the third quarter when Tyler Johnson dropped a first down pass before getting clocked by an Iowa defender, which drew multiple flags. Fleck sprinted on the field to check on Johnson and was promptly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. It wasn’t that costly — the officiating crew asserted that because the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Iowa was a dead ball penalty after the play, it would have been the Hawkeyes’ ball no matter what — but I feel like both Fleck and the officiating crew could have handled it better.

The Ugly

Minnesota squandered their moment in the sun. The Gophers were the talk of college football for a full week after one of the biggest wins in program history. For the briefest of moments, we could even debate their place among the Top 10 teams in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings without being laughed out of the room. Well, that’s over and done with.

Iowa’s first three offensive drives of the game. This is where the game was lost for Minnesota. The Hawkeyes racked up 212 yards — averaging nine yards per play — on their first three offensive possessions, all of which resulted in a touchdown as they built their 20-3 lead. On their next five offensive drives, the Hawkeyes were held to a total of 99 yards and three points. Poor tackling and missed assignments on those first three drives ultimately doomed the Gophers.

The Gophers’ red zone execution. Minnesota was inside the Iowa 30 on six occasions, and only came away with a total of 19 points. Two field goals, two touchdowns, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs on a dropped pass by Tyler Johnson on fourth down. Those missed opportunities are killer when you’re trying to erase a 20-3 deficit.

Minnesota’s special teams. They’ve been subpar all season long and were bound to bite the Gophers’s in the ass eventually. Well, the bill came due on Saturday in Iowa City. Brock Walker — who has been the starting kicker the last two weeks due to freshman kicker Michael Lantz experiencing “leg tightness” — missed a 50-yard field goal attempt and an extra point. Jacob Herbers booted a 32-yard punt in the fourth quarter that was then cut in half by a kick catch interference penalty. The Hawkeyes converted that into a field goal on the ensuing drive.

The Gophers’ ground game. Rodney Smith needed 60 yards to reach 1,000 on the season. Well, he didn’t get there. The sixth-year senior — the only player on the current roster to have actually beaten Iowa during his career — was limited to 46 rushing yards on 14 carries, with one touchdown. Minnesota’s offensive line was not up to the task of run blocking against the Hawkeyes’ formidable defensive front, and the offense was one-dimensional as a result.

Six sacks. Tanner Morgan took a beating from the Hawkeyes’ defensive front, with two of them coming on the first two plays of what Gopher fans had hoped would be the game-winning drive. To make matters worse, Morgan was banged up on the last sack, and head coach P.J. Fleck said after the game that he was showing concussion symptoms.

The Gophers failed to free Floyd. Minnesota’s misery in Iowa City continues, as the Gophers dropped their ninth straight road game to the Hawkeyes. It’s their fifth straight loss overall to Iowa, meaning the Floyd of Rosedale is condemned to another year in the Hawkeye State.

This column from last week. Written by a fool who wanted to believe it. I was born and raised in Iowa, meaning I’m more familiar than most with how obnoxious Hawkeye fans can be, especially when it comes to the Gophers. The Floyd of Rosedale game means a little something extra to me as a result, and for the last week I’ve wanted to believe that this team was different. That this team could end the program’s drought in Iowa City and re-capture the bronze pig for the first time since 2014. My gut was telling me otherwise. I should’ve known better.