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Minnesota Football vs. Iowa: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

Seven straight losses to the Hawkeyes

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Minnesota Golden Gophers lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes. But hey, at least P.J. Fleck is getting paid $5 million to lose to Iowa now.

The Elite

The Gophers’ ground game. Against a Top 10 rushing defense that came into the game allowing an average of 98.6 rushing yards per game, Minnesota gashed the Hawkeyes on the ground. Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving combined for 206 rushing yards, though neither of them was able to reach the end zone. The offensive game plan incorporated a toss play that we haven’t seen all season from the Gophers, and Iowa defenders struggled to shed blocks and make tackles in space. The offensive line, tight ends, and wide receivers all deserve credit for executing their blocks and opening up running lanes for Thomas and Irving.

Cole Kramer’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Ko Kieft on 4th & 2. Need I say more?

Minnesota’s run defense. Normally, limiting the Hawkeyes to 71 rushing yards would assure you a victory. Unfortunately that was not the case on Saturday.

The Meh

The Gophers’ division title hopes are all but dead. But in reality, a team with losses to Bowling Green and Illinois has no business going to the Big Ten Championship. If you want to be taken seriously as a contender in the Big Ten West, maybe avoid getting embarrassed by bad teams and actually try to beat Iowa and Wisconsin every once in a while.

The Ugly

Minnesota’s red zone offense. This is where the game was lost. In the first quarter, the Gophers drove to the Iowa two-yard line but settled for a field goal. At the end of the first half, the Gophers were in the red zone with a minute left but settled for a field goal in the final seconds. In the third quarter, the Gophers drove to the Iowa 11-yard line but settled for a field goal. Imagine if they had managed to convert even one of those trips into a touchdown.

Tanner Morgan. There are those who believe Tanner is nothing without Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. There are others who point out that his decline in performance coincided with the hire of Mike Sanford Jr. as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Whatever the reason, Tanner is broken. He’s been broken for a while now, though many of us have been holding out hope that the Tanner Morgan who broke single-season school passing records in 2019 would resurface at some point. In this game alone, he threw over the heads of wide open receivers, threw balls into traffic, held on to the ball too long, and panicked in the pocket. If he is the quarterback on this roster who gives Minnesota the best chance to win, that’s an indictment of every quarterback not named Tanner Morgan. What a sad state of affairs.

Two big defensive breakdowns. Minnesota played well on defense for the most part, but two plays left me shaking my head. The first was the 72-yard touchdown strike from Alex Padilla to Charlie Jones to give the Hawkeyes a 17-13 lead early in the third quarter. Freshman cornerback Justin Walley was in one-on-one coverage and got fooled badly on a double move by Jones. But the real back-breaker was a screen pass to wide receiver Keagan Johnson in the fourth quarter. Coney Durr and Thomas Rush both seemed to have Johnson wrapped up for a loss behind the line of scrimmage, but Johnson slipped loose and then ran untouched down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown, extending Iowa’s lead to 24-16.

Dragan Kesich’s 53-yard field goal attempt. Woof.

Minnesota’s trophy case continues to collect dust. Prior to beating Michigan in 2005, the Gophers had lost 16 straight games to the Wolverines. Prior to beating Wisconsin in 2018, the Gophers had lost 14 straight games to the Badgers. Minnesota is halfway there now against Iowa, having notched their seventh straight loss to the Hawkeyes on Saturday. They haven’t won in Iowa City in more than 20 years, and P.J. Fleck drops to 0-5 against Iowa. The Gophers share three of the most storied rivalry trophies in all of college football but only seem to possess them once in a blue moon. Thank God for the Governor’s Victory Bell, I guess.

P.J. Fleck drops to 0-5 against Iowa. But his new contract runs through 2028, so maybe he’ll have a win over the Hawkeyes by then. Fingers crossed!