A tense game with big plays, missed opportunities and a result that leaves Gopher fans frustrated with another loss in Iowa City. The final was Iowa 24-22 over Minnesota.
A Gopher offense that struggled mightily last week did not inspire much confidence in their opening possession as Minnesota took the ball to open the game and quickly punted after 3 plays. Iowa, behind backup quarterback Alex Padilla, went 10 plays, 39 yards and took the early 3-0 lead on a Caleb Shudak 50-yard field goal.
Tanner Morgan and the Gophers answered with a 15-play drive going 73 yards and culminating on a 4th and goal from the Iowa 2. After flirting with the idea of going for it, PJ Fleck opted to kick the game-tying FG.
Back to Iowa and on their second possession they scored the game’s first touchdown. It was a Padilla rush from the 1, but the key play was a 3rd and 2 play when Padilla threw deep to Charlie Jones who made an impressive diving catch down to the Minnesota 5. Two plays later Iowa took a 10-7 lead.
And at this point it was all Minnesota for the remainder of the half. The Cole Kramer to Ko Keift for a 37-yard, game-tying touchdown. And a Justin Waley strip to force the game’s first turnover on Iowa’s ensuing possession. A Gopher drive for a field goal as time expired in the 1st half gave the Gophers the lead heading into the locker room. In fact it was the first time the Gophers have lead Iowa in 275 minutes of football.
And the second half was a tense two quarters for Gopher fans.
The 3rd quarter was 1 big play from Iowa and the Gopher offense eating up 12:24 of clock but only managing to put 3 points on the scoreboard. Padilla connected with Jones again, this time beating Waley on a double move for a 72-yard touchdown. Meanwhile the Gophers had 65 rushing yards in the quarter while Morgan was 6/10 passing but they were unable to get points on the board when opportunities were there.
Really the defense was playing well, especially through 3 quarters. The Hawkeyes has 219 yards through 3 quarters, 106 of them coming on 2 plays.
Iowa scored early in the 4th when Padilla threw to Keagan Johnson in the flat who was wrapped up for loss before breaking out of 2 tackles and sprinting for a 27-yard touchdown. The PAT put Iowa up 8 which seemed insurmountable.
But it has been stated for weeks that you are not going to go down to Iowa City and beat the Hawkeyes if you’re not able to move the ball through the air. And today, the Gophers were really not able to move the ball passing. Morgan has been taking heat this year and today was easily his worst game of the year. Other games it was plausible that the problem was more more on the offensive coordinator and not putting Morgan in a position to be successful. But today there were no such excuses. It was poor decisions and missed receivers that are all on Morgan.
It is fantastic that the Gopher ground game put 189yards on this Iowa rush defense. But when you are down, on the road and you have to rely on your passing game that is broken...you are in trouble.
Yet, with all that said, Morgan came through in the 4th, connecting with Chris Autman-Bell for 68 yards. The offensive line gave Morgan a clean pocket, Bell made a great move to blow by the Hawkeye corner and Morgan hit him in stride for the big play. The 2-point conversion was unsuccessful.
The Gopher offense had 2 more opportunities to late in the game to complete an historic comeback. But the passing game remained overmatched. The game ended on Morgan being flushed, not throwing the ball away and the clock ran out.
A frustrating game in a very frustrating season.
Up next is a trip to Indiana next Saturday.