The Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-2) will host the Iowa Hawkeyes (1-2) on Friday night at 6 p.m. CT at TCF Bank Stadium. The game will be televised on FS1. And the bronze pig is at stake.
How have the Hawkeyes fared so far this season?
Following a tumultuous offseason that saw the program culture under the microscope, Iowa started the season 0-2, dropping close-fought games against Purdue and Northwestern. But the Hawkeyes bounced back in Week 3 for their first win of the season, trouncing Michigan State.
Can Iowa score on offense?
Yes, in part because I don’t foresee the 2020 edition of the Gophers’ defense completing any shutouts in the near future. But Iowa has had their fair share of struggles on offense. Up until the Hawkeyes’ lopsided 49-7 victory over Michigan State, Kirk Ferentz’s squad was averaging 18.5 points in the first half of games and 1.5 points in the second half. As we saw last season when Iowa jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first half against Minnesota and then held on for dear life, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz can read from a script but sucks at improvising.
One source of their struggles has been first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras. The redshirt sophomore signal caller is completing only 54.3 percent of his passes and has thrown more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Petras has missed wide open receivers, thrown bullets that bounce off his targets’ hands, and made poor decisions in the pocket when he gets uncomfortable. And he has even had the benefit of Iowa’s most impressive group of pass catchers in years.
Sophomore tight end Sam LaPorta has emerged as his favorite target, but redshirt sophomore Nico Ragaini is their top possession receiver and senior Brandon Smith has the team’s only two receiving touchdowns. Ihmir Smith-Marsette is their most dynamic threat in the passing game, and he’ll be back after serving a whole one-game suspension for being arrested going 75 mph in a 30 mph zone and charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence.
But the Hawkeyes’ best asset is in the backfield. Sophomore Tyler Goodson is far and away their best running back, leading the team with 43 carries for 233 rushing yards and three touchdowns. You’ll also see him active in the passing game, having already recorded seven receptions for 67 yards. Goodson is fast and elusive, and the Gophers will need to tackle well or they are going to have a long day. Look for senior Mekhi Sargent to get carries, as well.
The key to stopping Iowa on offense is simple, really: Put the brakes on their run game and force Petras to beat you through the air. He was asked to do too much against Purdue and Northwestern — attempting 39 and 50 pass attempts, respectively, in those two games — and the Hawkeyes’ offense stalled as a result. But this will be easier said than done for a Minnesota defense that has struggled to defend the run so far this season.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
We know by now that Minnesota is going to want to the run ball, and carrying that ball will be Mohamed Ibrahim. How much running room will there be? Perhaps more than usual considering how tough Iowa has been against the run in recent years. Purdue running back Zander Horvath gashed the Hawkeyes for 129 rushing yards in Week 1, and Northwestern grinded out 143 rushing yards as a team in Week 2. Iowa came into the season with big holes at linebacker after Kristian Welch graduated, Dillon Doyle transferred to Baylor, and Djimon Colbert opted out. But senior Nick Niemann and redshirt sophomore Seth Benson have both been solid for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa also came into the season having to replace three of four starters from their defensive line, and the new-look line has been a mixed bag to start the season. On the edge, senior Chauncey Gholston is one to watch, with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks to his name. But generating a consistent pass rush without blitzing has been a challenge for the Hawkeyes. Up the middle, redshirt junior Daviyon Nixon has been a revelation at defensive tackle, recording 21 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble through three games.
Against the pass, the Hawkeyes are much stingier, and have already snagged six interceptions this season. Redshirt junior safety Jack Koerner is the most valuable piece of their secondary, leading all other defensive backs with 23 tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. Iowa has a pair of formidable cornerbacks in senior Matt Hankins and junior Riley Moss, both of whom have improved their play since Purdue wide receivers David Bell and Milton Wright carved them up in Week 1. If Minnesota struggles to run the ball, wide receivers Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson will need to step up, because Iowa will certainly hone in on Rashod Bateman.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
I’m not ready to bet on the Gophers yet. Minnesota’s linebackers are still a work in progress, and you can be sure Iowa will attack them in the run game. The Hawkeyes operate an offensive line clinic and if Mariano Sori-Marin and co. can’t shed blocks and make tackles, Goodson and Sargent are going to gash them on the ground. This will also probably be the best defense the Gophers have faced all season, and I don’t know that they’ll be able to keep pace if this becomes a shootout. Take care of yourself, Floyd. Iowa 38, Minnesota 21.