The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 9-0 coming off one of the programs biggest wins in its history, ranked inside the top 10 in the AP Poll at No. 7 for the first time since 1962 and are headed into the last three games of the season
The Gophers take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City this coming weekend in, theoretically, a better matchup than against Penn State. The Hawkeyes are 6-3 this season and fell in the AP Poll from No. 18 to 23 after a two-point loss to Wisconsin.
The two teams have played 112 times, with Minnesota retaining a matchup advantage thanks to its rampant success through the first half of the 20th century. Lately, though, Minnesota has faltered against Iowa. Since 2001, the Gophers are 4-14 in the series. Minnesota faces the task of breaking Iowa’s current four-game winning streak in the matchup and an even more significant drought on Saturday: getting a victory in Iowa City.
It has been 20 years since the Gophers emerged victorious from Kinnick Stadium, when the Glen Mason-led 1999 team squeaked out a 25-21 win.
How do these two teams match up?
Unlike Minnesota’s matchup with Penn State, the Gophers have a clear offensive advantage. The Gophers have scored more twice as many touchdowns as Iowa (46-22). In terms of points, Minnesota has scored 338 points total this season, averaging nearly 38 per game; while Iowa has scored 217 total points, averaging just over 24 per game.
Iowa’s rushing game has three players with 360-plus yards this season. No player has had a single day with 100-plus yards on the ground for the Hawkeyes. Junior Mekhi Sargent leads the rushing attack with 474 yards on the season, averaging nearly 52.0 per game. Last week against Wisconsin, junior Toren Young led the way with 45 yards.
The Hawkeyes’ passing game has been anchored for the past few seasons by senior quarterback Nate Stanley. He has three receiving targets with 400-plus yards this season and they have caught 10 of his 12 touchdown passes this season. In the last game against Wisconsin, freshman Tyrone Tracy Jr. stepped up and had 130 yards on five catches for a touchdown. One receiver of that trio, Brandon Smith, did not play and will likely not play against Minnesota.
Minnesota’s offense, however, is led by an explosive passing game and a trudging running game. Rodney Smith is the Gophers’ definitive No. 1 back, with 940 yards this season and seven touchdowns in nine games. Against Penn State, though, head coach P.J. Fleck had balanced much of the time between Smith, Mohamed Ibrahim and Shannon Brooks.
On the passing game, quarterback Tanner Morgan has had an impressive season and went 18-20 against Penn State last week. His best target that day was Rashod Bateman, who has emerged this season as a sophomore while defensive backs are worried about both Tyler Johnson and Chris Autman-Bell as well. Bateman had 203 yards on seven catches for one touchdown against Penn State.
Sophomore Jack Koerner leads the way in tackles for Iowa, while Michael Ojemudia has two interceptions this season, most on the team. Last week against Wisconsin, junior A.J. Epenesa had this play to force a fumble out of the hands of Wisconsin’s Jack Coan.
Overall, Iowa’s defense has given up only 12 touchdowns this season compared to Minnesota’s 19. The Hawkeyes have given up an average of nearly 40 fewer yards per game than the Gophers this season.
The Gophers, on the other hand, are coming off a big day from their secondary against Penn State. Antoine Winfield Jr. had two interceptions, good for seven this season. Jordan Howden had a game-saving pick in the end zone to seal the Minnesota victory.
Fleck said after the game on Saturday that linebacker Kamal Martin, who didn’t play against Penn State, was ready to play, but didn’t because of lack of practice time. He should be a much welcome reacquisition to the Gophers’ defense against Iowa.
As a unit, Minnesota has the advantage offensively over Iowa, which ranks in the bottom-four in the Big Ten in overall offensive statistics. Defensively speaking, Iowa has the edge, having given up only an average of 11.7 points per game this season. Compare that to Minnesota’s average of near 21 points per game against, and it really could be a battle of Minnesota’s offense against Iowa’s defense for the victory.
The Gophers will look to assert their offensive prowess from Iowa City at 3:00 pm on Saturday, with the game available on TV on FOX.