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

A heartbreaker and a gut punch all in one

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the Minnesota Golden Gophers lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Elite

Mohamed Ibrahim. This is the player I am most heartbroken for. We should have been able to look back on this game as The Mohamed Ibrahim Game. On Senior Day, in his final game at Huntington Bank Stadium, Ibrahim put on a performance for the ages. The Iowa defense came into the game allowing an average of 88.6 rushing yards per game, and Ibrahim finished with 39 carries for 263 rushing yards and one touchdown. I was skeptical that he’d be able to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards to 19 games, but he blew right past the century mark on a 54-yard burst in the third quarter.

Winning in the trenches. Fleck said in his postgame press conference that he thought Minnesota won in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and I would agree. The offensive line was able to build on their impressive performance against Northwestern, paving the way for 300 rushing yards for the second straight week. The Gophers’ defensive line kept the Hawkeyes from generating any sort of ground game, limiting them to 59 rushing yards and 2.1 yards per carry.

Zero penalties. Neither team drew a single flag. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before.

The Meh

Athan Kaliakmanis and co. To be clear, I’m grading the passing game on a curve because Kaliakmanis is a redshirt freshman with only four career starts under his belt. It needs to be better — a lot better — but I thought Kaliakmanis played well at times. He was 7-of-15 for 87 passing yards and one interception, which is nowhere near good enough. His Achilles’ heel right now is swinging for the home run (and whiffing) when settling for a single or a double would keep the chains moving. We can only hope this experience will pay dividends in the future.

The Ugly

Two turnovers and a missed field goal. That’s what cost Minnesota the game. In a game that the Gophers lost by three points, Matthew Trickett’s missed 34-yard field goal in the second quarter looms large. The fourth quarter turnovers were fatal. Twice, Minnesota was in position to take the lead. But on Ibrahim’s 37th carry of the night, he fumbled at the Iowa 13-yard line. On the next drive, facing 3rd & 7 at the Iowa 33-yard line, Kaliakmanis forced a pass to Le’Meke Brockington and cornerback Riley Moss was able to get a hand on it, deflecting it into the open arms of linebacker Jack Campbell for a back-breaking interception.

Playing to lose. What happened to the P.J. Fleck who called for a Cole Kramer pop pass to Ko Kieft on fourth down against Iowa last year? That play-call came on 4th & 2 at the Iowa 37-yard line and resulted in a 37-yard touchdown. This year, facing 4th & 1 and even more favorable field position at the Iowa 16-yard line late in the second quarter, Fleck opted instead for a field goal, even after averaging 8.1 yards per rushing attempt on the drive. Matthew Trickett’s 34-yard field goal was an inch outside the right upright, allowing the Hawkeyes to maintain their 10-7 lead going into the locker room at halftime. You’re not going to out-Iowa Iowa. Play to win the game.

Failing to cover the tight end. It’s not secret that Iowa is in competition with Minnesota for worst wide receiver corps in the Big Ten. Everyone knows that their only reliable pass catchers are their tight ends. Yet on the Hawkeyes’ first play from scrimmage Saturday, Spencer Petras found Sam LaPorta on a tight end screen for a gain of 58 yards. LaPorta and tight end Luke Lachey combined for nine receptions for 172 receiving yards against Minnesota. I am baffled as to how defensive coordinator Joe Rossi seemingly failed to consider how Iowa might try to take advantage of the Gophers’ season-long struggles covering tight ends.

Eight straight losses to the Hawkeyes. P.J. Fleck drops to 0-6 against Iowa. He may have snapped the losing streak against Wisconsin and helped level the playing field against the Badgers, but he has been responsible for the bulk of the losses in this embarrassing skid against the Hawkeyes. Might as well move the Floyd of Rosedale trophy case into storage.