Who hates Minnesota? Not me. Probably on account of me living here, I just can’t muster up any particular vitriol for the Gophers. Living among Minnesota sports fans is like living at a shelter for abused dogs. Whatever is happening, they just slink around waiting for the next undeserved kick in the ribs.
I can’t say the same about the Gopher’s head football coach. P.J. Fleck is what happens when an award for insurance sales gains consciousness, and I don’t wish him well. It brings me small joy that such a man has never defiled Floyd of Rosedale by laying his hands on it. There are few things as pure and beautiful in this dark, cold world as Floyd of Rosedale. Save a biannual visit to Minnesota to admire the lakes and grab a beer from Insight Brewing, Floyd belongs at home in Iowa City, untouched by Gopher hands. While there will surely come a day when that ends, Friday was not that day.
Iowa got the ball to start the game and with Ihmir Smith-Marsette taking the touchback, Sam LaPorta would end the game as the only Hawkeye credited with a kickoff return, which really tells you all you need to know about this game. While Iowa’s first drive stalled at midfield, it would serve as a teaser trailer of what was to come for the Iowa’s offense — a steady diet of Tyler Goodson with a few plays by Iowa’s high-risk, low-reward passing game sprinkled in.
None of Goodson’s best runs showed up on this drive, but my favorite run of his did. On first and 10 from the Iowa 47, Iowa ran their standard zone run to the right. Goodson politely waited for a running lane that did not materialize. He did find a sliver of space near the sideline, darted to the right, and somehow sliced up the sideline to net four non-existent yards on the play. Goodson is certainly one of the best running back Ferentz has ever had and these kind of runs are big part of why. He has the thrilling runs, yes but his ability to squeeze every possible yard from each running play is a big part of what makes him special.
With the Hawkeyes punting, enter Tory Taylor. Only two things come from Australia -- kangaroos and incredible punters and I don’t see no tail on Taylor. It is going to be difficult not to take his excellence for granted, as it is a mild shock when one of his punts is merely good. Here Taylor pinned Minnesota on their own 5-yard line, the first of his three punts, all of which pinned Minnesota inside their own 12-yard line or better. The combination of his ability to pin offenses deep and a downright filthy defense is lethal and it is absolutely glorious to watch.
What is so fun about the defense is just how much their discipline makes things difficult for opposing offenses. There are very few cheap yards to be had. If teams want to move the ball, they have to be ready to fight for each yard. If you look at the stat line of Minnesota’s two stellar playmakers, Rashad Bateman and Mohamad Ibrahim, you might think they had a pretty productive game. But Bateman’s eight catches for 111 yards came on whopping sixteen targets and Ibrahim’s 144 yards took 33 carries, and many of those touches came with Minnesota trying to come back down three scores in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went to their studs a lot, but they simply could not sustain drives that way. Minnesota only had two drives worthy of mention against Iowa’s first-string defense, and neither of them ended with any points.
With Iowa getting the ball back after the first of six Gopher punts, they got another early crack at the worst defense in the Big Ten and this time they took advantage. Five of Iowa’s next six plays went for a first down, and the seventh went go for a touchdown. It was a medium blend of explosive runs and designed passes, culminating in a 1-yard jet sweep touchdown to Nico Ragaini. There is plenty of reasons for concern with Brian Ferentz as a playcaller, but his scripted plays seem good for at least one smooth-sailing touchdown a game.
IOWA 7, MINNESOTA 0
After another Minnesota punt, Iowa took the ball…and gave it right back. Iowa’s passing game is an adventure right now. Not like a “backpacking through Europe” kind of adventure. More like a “dipping raw chicken in moldy mayonaise and eating it” kind of adventure. Petras seems fine with designed, non-running back screen plays and getting to his first read. If that’s covered, panic ensues. Zone coverage seems particularly vexing. Here he missed a linebacker in coverage and threw the ball right to him. He got bailed out because two Gopher personal fouls (including one because P.J. Fleck is a lunatic) cost them 30 yards of field position and helped ensure the Gophers failed to capitalize on the turnover.
With the ball on their own 15-yard line, Iowa’s offensive line would unleash hell upon the Gophers. As great as Goodson is, his greatness was more bonus than necessity given how well Iowa’s line blocked. If I were grading the offensive lines performance on this drive, I would go with XXX because the holes they were generating were gaping. Whichever back got the ball was making it through with ease. All 85 yards on this touchdown drive came on the ground, with a couple of incomplete passes thrown in for funsies. It ended with Goodson receiving a direct snap on Minnesota’s 7-yard line and taking a moment to admire the play of his offensive line, before realizing he had a job to do and sauntering into the end zone for a TD to the left of Alaric Jackson.
IOWA 14, MINNESOTA 0
That would be it for the scoring in the first half, though not for lack of trying. Iowa’s defense set the offense up with two drives starting in Minnesota territory and two great chances to put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, those drives netted Iowa zero points thanks to two negative first down plays, in this case a jet sweep and an iffy holding call, respectively. Nothing is more poisonous for Iowa’s offense than a negative play on first down. They should probably just punt when this happens. It is a shame that Iowa could not get so much as a field goal attempt on either one of these drives as I’m sure Keith Duncan would have made one. Minnesota’s last three drives of the first half went: 3-and-out, interception, and failed Hail Mary, allowing Iowa to take a 14-point lead into the second half.
HALFTIME: IOWA 14, MINNESOTA 0
It would really be nice to relax when Iowa has 14-point lead and a great defense, but that is not the life we chose to live. After Iowa and Minnesota exchanged punts, Minnesota's offense finally got going. It was reminiscent of the Northwestern game, with Minnesota grinding out yards behind a now-effective Ibrahim, along with a couple of timely receptions to Bateman allowing the Gopher offense to slowly ooze the ball downfield. I was sure Minnesota was going to cap off a clock-chewing, soul-crushing drive with a touchdown and put immense pressure on Iowa’s sporadic quarterback. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Minnesota’s drive started at their own 5-yard line thanks to a magnificent punt from Taylor, but the drive petered out just outside the red zone. After a timeout, P.J. Fleck weirdly went with a zone run to the right which lost a yard and then decided a field goal was his best bet on 4th-and-7 on Iowa’s 21, down two scores. Jack Koerner got a piece of the ball, ensuring that Minnesota had diddly to show for their 17-play, 74-yard drive that took nearly 11 minutes of game time.
With a minute to go in the third quarter, enter Tyler Goodson. On the first play of the drive, he would take a hand-off and run through the nice crease past the second level and shrug off the one Gopher arm that had no hope of stopping him him. While Goodson was thinking a touchdown, there were just too many bodies around to get to the outside and he settled for a nice stop-and-spin move that netted an extra 10 yards.
45 yards later, it was first and 10 at the Minnesota 34. I fully expected and was openly rooting for the Ferentzes to say “fuck passing” and run it on literally every play from there on out. They didn’t, but it worked out well anyway. After another Goodson run, Iowa ran play-action and Petras lasered the ball into a tight window for Tyrone Tracy for 18 yards. Two plays later, ISM came in motion as if he were running a jet sweep, but instead sprinted without the ball towards the right corner of the endzone. Whoever had him in man coverage had zero chance of staying with him. Petras rolled out and hit him for the easy touchdown. There is a lot not to like about Iowa’s passing game right now, but the way Iowa has used motion to give the receivers an advantage in space is a bright spot.
IOWA 20, MINNESOTA 0
Even with the botched extra point, there was little to worry about with a 20-point lead. Still, Minnesota has two stellar playmakers and they drove down the field more quickly than I would have liked. Thankfully, Tanner Morgan would remove what little air there was left in the prospect of a Gopher comeback. With a second-and-3 from the Iowa 20, Tanner Morgan stared down Bateman, who was hanging out with Riley Moss down the field, and lobbed a duck in his direction. Both Moss and Bateman stood there, frozen, both equally perplexed that the ball was thrown, but Moss snapped out of his stupor first, jumped in front of Bateman for the ball and ran free down the sideline. He was finally tackled at the Minnesota 35, and the offense would take over from there.
I was certain it was time to pack in the offense, but I underestimated just how much Ferentz hates Phillip John Fleck. It is as if Ferentz sees in Fleck, not technically a millennial, every horror that millennials have inflicted on the world, and Ferentz was determined to shove Fleck’s face into his avocado toast on behalf of boomers everywhere. So instead of running the ball, Ferentz went for the jugular and called a play-action pass to Shaun Beyer which worked to the tune of 28 yards. After a called run to Petras (!) got the ball to the one, a one-yard plunge by Tyler Goodson made the blowout official.
IOWA 28, MINNESOTA 0
Minnesota went three-and-out and Iowa got another touchdown on a hilarious three-play drive that consisted off three Mekhi Sargent runs that covered 51 yards. The only drama left was whether or not the Gophers would break the shutout Iowa was pitching.
IOWA 35, MINNESOTA 0
The answer turned out to be yes, but it would take the Gophers over six minutes and 15 plays -- and leaving their starters in against Iowa’s backups to do it. You’ve no doubt already heard about the timeout shenanigans, but Fleck calling a timeout to preserve a scoring opportunity and Ferentz calling three timeouts in a row in response was next level pettiness, and I’m here for it.
FINAL: IOWA 35, MINNESOTA 7
Iowa sits at 2-2 and they are a handful of plays from being 4-0 and sitting in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten West title. While that's bittersweet, it's hard not to revel in the glory of consecutive blowout wins, even if those wins came against Big Ten bottom feeders. While the prospect of Iowa giving a struggling PSU squad its first win looms for next week, that's a problem for the future. For now, enjoy the fact that you are among the first Hawkeye fans to ever see Iowa win six straight games against Minnesota.
I don’t remember the last time Iowa ran the ball this well in back-to-back Big Ten games, but breaking 200 yards in consecutive weeks is fantastic, and they almost broke 200 yards against Purdue. (I am emotionally ready to admit that Northwestern has a great defense and grant them credit for shutting Iowa’s running game down.)
I also don’t remember the last time I was this terrified of Iowa’s passing game. Right now the passing game is a liability. This is going to be a problem when Penn State or Wisconsin shuts down the running game and double-dog dares Iowa to pass. I am emotionally ready to accept that deep shots will not happen, but they at least need to figure out how to get the passing game out of the defense’s way.
Jack Koerner has gotten some heat in the past, but he is making plays. Whether it is an overthrow, a timely hit, or a blocked field goal, he seems to perpetually be in the right place for a high-leverage play.
I love that it is a different defensive lineman wreaking havoc every week. This week it was VanValkenburg’s turn, with three sacks. Not that I prefer this to having a superstar like A.J. Epenesa out there wreaking havoc, but it is great that the pass rush can come from anywhere.