The Golden Gophers have finally found a way to beat Iowa after a dominating defensive performance and four field goals to win 12-10.
PJ Fleck had been 0-6 against Iowa and the Gophers had not won in Iowa City since 1999.
This game was following the exact script that Iowa typically employs. Iowa wins with a solid defense, a safe offense, special teams that consistently flips the field and they play disciplined football until you make more mistakes than they do. This is the script that we have seen play out in the prior 6 meetings between PJ Fleck and Kirk Ferentz. And frankly, this is how this game was playing out.
Gopher fans are used to seeing defeated snatched from the jaws of victory. Even after they hit a 4th quarter field goal to take a 12-10 lead, things never felt easy. But eventually, relief and elation came to those who stuck through this game.
It was Iowa who took an early lead, as they often do against the Gophers. Playing out the usual script.
In their win over Wisconsin last week, Deacon Hill passed for 37 yards. This week, Iowa threw the ball for 64 yards on their opening drive, resulting in a field goal. A quick 3-0 lead for the home team, staying on script.
Then the teams proceeded to exchange punts, also according to script.
In the first half, Minnesota had 7 possessions, 5 of which were 3-and-outs. One of those drives went for 45 yards on 9 plays and resulted in a game-tying FG with just second left in the 1st quarter and the wind at their back.
From that point, the 2nd quarter was Iowa playing Iowa football. Field position was dominated by Ferentz while they waited for Minnesota to crack. They pinned Minnesota inside their own 5, forced another 3-and-out, and took over at the Gopher 46 with under 5 minutes left in the half. Then it was up to the Gopher defense to get flagged 4 times for 33 yards, resulting in a 1-yard TD run by Hill.
And it was 10-3 at halftime. The Gopher offense had 65 total yards and it was pretty ugly all around. The team had 6 penalties, 1 missed field goal (into the wind), a few dropped passes and Athan Kaliakmanis was 3/8 for 8 yards.
But the second half was thoroughly dominated by the Gopher defense while the offense looked far more competent and capable.
If anybody deserves credit for this win, it is Joe Rossi and his defense. Minnesota had 174 yards of offense in the 2nd half, but also only managed to make 3 FGs. Trailing for most of the 2nd half, the Rossi defense allowed 4 yards TOTAL for the entire second half and they forced 2 turnovers.
Read that again.
The Gopher defense allowed 4 total yards of offense for the 2nd half.
Offensively the Gophers came out in the 2nd half and finally (FINALLY) started to play like themselves on offense. The first 2 quarters felt like Minnesota was trying to replicate and be Iowa. But in the 2nd half, they let the offense be more balanced and let the passing game open up a little. Kaliakmanis was inconsistent and struggled with accuracy but he and Daniel Jackson made enough plays to move the offense into field goal range four times, which was enough for the win.
Things were dangerously close to an absolute epic Gopher loss. Kirk Ferentz, as he often does, chose to punt the ball back to Minnesota with 1:59 left from their own 41-yard line on 4th and 10. He punts here because he trusts his punter to pin Minnesota deep, he trusts his defense to force a Gopher punt and the trusts that he’ll get the ball back with over a minute to go and probably closer to Minnesota territory. He was absolutely right. But it was almost so much worse.
His punter did pin the Gophers at the 13-yard line. His defense did force a quick Gopher 3-and-out. And the Gophers were punting the ball back to Iowa with 1:40 left.
The punt traveled beyond the 50, bounced around and Iowa’s Cooper Dejean picked it up, broke a couple tackles, changed direction and housed the punt for an apparent Iowa touchdown. Iowa fans went nuts, Gopher fans felt that pain of utter collapse. But then the referees went to the replay screen. Dejean pointed at the ball bouncing and made a weird motion with his left arm. This motion was deemed as an illegal fair catch signal, the ball is dead when he touches it and Iowa had the ball on the 46.
To be clear, this was not a fair catch signal, it was an illegal signal.
Three plays later, Justin Walley intercepted Hill to seal the game. A few victory formation plays and the Gophers were able to storm the Iowa sidelines to claim Floyd of Rosedale.
There was a lot to be concerned about in this game. When you outgain an opponent like that and are +3 in turnovers, winning 12-10 is not exactly encouraging. The special teams (outside of Dragan Kesich’s leg) were dangerously bad and the offense was infuriating at times. Joe Rossi’s defense was spectacular though. Even when you account for the fact that Iowa’s offense is one of the worst in college football, that second-half defense was incredible.
Iowa plays a style that is often dangerously riding that thin margin of error, and it often works out for them. Today, Minnesota played their game and found a way to win.
Up next, the Gophers host Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.