Let’s get this over with.
Can Iowa score on offense?
Well, Iowa finally decided to bench starting quarterback Spencer Petras, who was a combined 26-of-51 (50.9%) for 288 passing yards and four interceptions in back-to-back losses to Purdue and Wisconsin. He started 2-of-4 against Northwestern before the Hawkeyes decided to turn the reins over to sophomore Alex Padilla, who provided the offense a brief spark. He led back-to-back touchdown drives after being inserted to the game and finished 18-of-28 for 172 passing yards in Iowa’s 17-12 win over the Wildcats. Padilla seemed to have a good connection with freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson, who caught a season-high five receptions for 68 receiving yards.
To be fair to Petras, Iowa’s problems on offense have not been exclusive to the quarterback position. The offensive line, even with All-American center Tyler Linderbaum anchoring the unit, has struggled. Junior Tyler Goodson is one of the better running backs in the Big Ten, but hasn’t had much help from his blockers. Goodson has only rushed for 100+ yards twice this season, once against Kent State and then last week against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes rank 110th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 113.9 rushing yards per game.
Iowa’s offensive line hasn’t been great in pass protection either, surrendering an average of 3.12 sacks per game. In their two losses, the Hawkeyes allowed a combined 10 sacks. When the offensive line has been effective in pass protection, the quarterback has had a fair number of reliable receivers at their disposal. Seven different players have at least one receiving touchdown this season. They’re not by any means explosive in the passing game but they’ll try to dink and dunk their way down the field, as evidenced by the fact that a tight end, junior Sam LaPorta, leads the team in receptions (34) and receiving yards (391).
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
Nothing about this matchup bodes well for the Gophers. Iowa has one of the best defenses in the country, ranking eighth in rushing defense (98.6 rushing yards allowed per game), 38th in passing defense (205.9 passing yards allowed per game), and fifth in scoring defense (15.7 points allowed per game). Minnesota’s one-dimensional offense under offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. has consisted of running the ball and then breaking out into a cold sweat whenever the ground game fails to get rolling. So you know Iowa is going to stack the box to stop the run and dare quarterback Tanner Morgan to try his luck with their ball-hawking secondary.
You’ve likely heard by now that the Hawkeyes have amassed a staggering 19 interceptions through nine games. There’s obviously a bit of luck involved in that, but this is also a veteran secondary that is rarely out of position. Junior Dane Belton, who is in his third year as the starter at Iowa’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back “Cash” position, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. Senior cornerback Matt Hankins is not far behind with three of his own, and senior safety Jack Koerner has a pair of interceptions to his name. Senior cornerback Riley Moss, who has four interceptions and two pick sixes this season, has been out since suffering a knee injury against Penn State. He is set to make his return this week against Minnesota.
I would anticipate a minimum of two interceptions for Morgan. He has been mostly ineffective this season. We’ve also seen nothing from this wide receiver corps to believe they are capable of besting a veteran secondary and forcing the Hawkeyes to take defenders out of the box, especially if Chris Autman-Bell is unavailable after being removed from the Illinois game by the medical staff following a rough collision on an incompletion.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
P.J. Fleck is winless against the Hawkeyes, and Minnesota hasn’t won in Iowa City since 1999. I don’t see either of those things changing on Saturday. Iowa 21, Minnesota 0.