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Minnesota Football: RoWINg to Iowa - Opponent Preview

The Hawkeyes’ defense presents a monumental challenge for the Gophers’ offense

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-3) look to snap a seven-game losing streak to the Iowa Hawkeyes (6-4) and re-claim the Floyd of Rosedale on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Can Iowa score on offense?

By now you’re probably aware of Iowa’s well-documented issues on offense, led by offensive coordinator and nepotism poster child Brian Ferentz. The Hawkeyes rank 119th in rushing offense (98.4 rushing yards per game), 123rd in passing offense (152.7 passing yards per game), and 124th in scoring offense (17.9 points per game).

With that said, this offense is not that dissimilar from the Gophers’ offense. Much like Minnesota, Iowa has not been able to consistently move the ball through the air. Quarterback Spencer Petras has been dreadful for most of the season, completing only 56.2% of his passes and throwing as many touchdowns (5) as interceptions (5). His most reliable pass catcher has been tight end Sam LaPorta, who leads the team in receptions (49) and receiving yards (506) and has even split out at receiver to get him more involved. Sound familiar, Gopher fans?

The key difference between the two offenses is that the Hawkeyes don’t have Mohamed Ibrahim, though true freshman Kaleb Johnson has emerged down the stretch as perhaps their top running back. He has demonstrated the ability to break tackles as a downhill runner and had a breakout game against Purdue, rushing for 200 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

The Hawkeyes’ offensive line also isn’t nearly as good they’ve been in years past, which has contributed to their woes running the ball and passing the ball.

Iowa is in their most successful stretch of the season, though, averaging 27 points per game the last three weeks after averaging 14 points on offense through the first seven games. To alleviate the pressure on Petras, who has been sacked 30 times this season, Ferentz has called for more high-percentage throws that get the ball out quickly, with some success. Iowa has also traditionally relied on zone blocking in the run game, but have mixed in more gap-blocking schemes in recent weeks, which has helped create running room for Johnson.

Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score

The Hawkeyes may have one of the worst offenses in the country, but they also happen to have one of the best defenses in the country. Iowa ranks 8th in run defense (88.6 rushing yards allowed per game), 10th in pass defense (172.1 passing yards allowed per game), and 5th in scoring defense (13.9 points allowed per game).

Phil Parker has been the defensive coordinator at Iowa for a decade, so Gopher fans should be more than familiar with the characteristics of a Phil Parker-led defense by now. The Hawkeyes are disciplined at every level of the defense. Everyone knows their assignments and responsibilities. To beat them, you too have to be disciplined. You can either take what their defense gives you or you can try to force plays, which more often than not leads to turnovers.

Iowa’s best offense is their defense. Even when their offense is flailing — which is often — punter Tory Taylor has the ability to flip the field and pin opposing teams deep in their own territory. From there, the Hawkeyes will try to create a short field for their offense, either through a turnover or by preventing the offense from digging themselves very far out of the hole they’ve dug for them, knowing the other team’s punter isn’t nearly as good as theirs.

The defense has also taken scoring into their own hands at time. This season, Iowa has returned two interceptions for touchdowns, returned two fumbles for touchdowns, and recorded a pair of safeties. They count on you making a mistake, then punish you for it when you do.

Simply put, this is the best defense Minnesota has faced all season. All-American linebacker Jack Campbell is going to make it his personal mission to snap Mohamed Ibrahim’s streak of 18 consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing. The veteran secondary, which has amassed 10 interceptions as a collective unit this season, is going to be sitting back and waiting for redshirt freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to make a mistake.

But who will score more points on Saturday?

The Gophers are 0-3 this season when scoring fewer than 20 points. Only two opponents have scored more than 13 points against the Hawkeyes this season and those two teams were Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines were able to beat Iowa without an explosive passing game because they have Blake Corum operating behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Minnesota does not have that same luxury up front. I just don’t see how the Gophers score enough points against this defense to win. Iowa 26, Minnesota 13.