Just when I thought Iowa football couldn’t get any drunker, they say “Hold my beer” so they can start double-fisting Everclear and rubbing alcohol as they go sledding down a staircase blindfolded. A night like that should end with the Hawks in a body cast and having their stomach pumped. Instead, they walked away from the insanity with nothing more than a cool scar and a hell of a story. While I wouldn’t say I like it, exactly, I wouldn’t say I don’t not like it, either.
We really have reached peak nonsense here, as Iowa keeps wandering throughout Wonderland, wrestling with the inhabitants and beheading the Queen of Hearts. I’m at a loss to fathom the unfathomable. They just keep doing this, defying both logic and common decency and it is as captivating as it is hideous. Hawkeye football is a hell of a drug.
Things started out normal... well, normalish. Iowa kicked it away and stopped the Gophers' initial drive. On Iowa’s first play from scrimmage, Brian dialed up a screen in the middle of the field to Sam LaPorta. It was a great call, because the Gophers ditched that area like a bunch of teenagers at a house party when the cops show up, and LaPorta, with the help of some first-rate wide receiver blocking, was able to saunter down the field for 58 yards. While Iowa would basically go no further from there, they were able to knock through a field goal from the Gopher 20-yard line for an early 3-0 lead.
The good times kept on rolling. A Gopher three-and-out gave way to an honest-to-goodness touchdown drive from the Iowa offense. It was Spencer Petras and his merry band of tight ends moving the ball, hitting Luke Lachey and Sam LaPorta for key first downs. On fourth-and-two from the Minnesota 36, Petras the Untackleable, shrugged off a blitzing corner and flicked the football out to his left to a wide-open LaPorta for 24 yards and a huge conversion. A Kaleb Johnson run and couple of QB sneaks later and the Hawkeyes had the ball in the end zone and a 10-0 lead.
It’s here where everything started to go all Gopher-shaped. Minnesota worked the ball right down the field for a touchdown. This Gopher drive was all about balance, with five runs and four passes covering 72 yards to paydirt. Gopher quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis held the ball as long as he could in the RPO, freezing Iowa’s defense to create running lanes and easy completions. But despite this drive being the platonic ideal of the RPO offense, P.J. Fleck’s takeway here was that the Gophers were passing the ball too much.
Of the next 45 plays by the Gopher offense, 31 of them were runs by Mohamed Ibrahim. (And of the other 14, most of them were runs by someone other than Mohamed Ibrahim.) The Gophers would complete one more pass after their touchdown drive. It is nigh-impossible to overstate how reliant the Gophers were on Ibrahim, who got the ball on 40 of Minnesota’s 65 plays and accounted for 270 of the Gophers 399 yards of offense. Mohamed Ibrahim ran many runs, and many runs were ran by Mohamed Ibrahim.
It’s also tough to really blame the Gophers, either, given how brilliant he was. Ibrahim had immaculate blocking for much of the night, and when he didn’t, he was playing chess against the Iowa defense to create his own running lanes or at an absolute minimum falling forward for three yards. I kept waiting for him to sit out for a few snaps after a big run, but he just never left the game. He was always there in the backfield, getting the ball and moving the chains. Iowa couldn’t force third-and-long situations to put the Gophers n00b quarterback in unfavorable situations. It was the most helpless the defense has looked since David Bell destroyed them over a year ago.
And yet despite Iowa’s offense struggling once Sam LaPorta left the game after the second series and Mo Ibrahim turning the Iowa defense into ground chuck from the second quarter on, the Gophers just couldn’t stop themselves from Goofing the Game Away™. The Gophers had drives of 73, 76, and 88 yards, a whooping total of 227 yards. How many points did all these yards generate? The same as the number of brothers in Hanson.
The first of these drives occurred at the end of the first half. Mo drove the offense down to the Iowa 16-yard line before P.J. Fleck decided to kick the field goal. P.J. was rewarded for his cowardice when the kick swerved outside the right upright, preserving Iowa’s meager three-point lead. Mo again worked the ball into Iowa’s red zone on the first Gopher drive of the second half, halting at Iowa’s 9-yard line before a made field goal.
But the Magnum Opus of Minnesotan Malfeasance came on their first drive of the fourth quarter. That drive featured nine minutes of Mo with 13 carries and all but 19 of the 83 yards the Gophers covered on the drive. On third-and-five from the Iowa 14-yard line, the Gophers dialed up a stretch run to the left. Mo sprinted out of the backfield before cutting upfield. Quinn Schulte, like so many Hawkeyes before him, tried and failed to corral Mo. With Quinn grasping at his legs, Mo launched himself forward to pick up the first down and remove any temptation Fleck might have to kick the field goal. With Mo airborne, Jack motherfuckin’ Campbell hammered him for the tackle and was able to dislodge the football, which rolled to Deontae Craig’s feet like an excited puppy that Deontae immediately hugged as if his life depended on it, ending the Gophers' very real scoring threat.
Iowa achieved nothing offensively after the turnover, save to make my heart flirt with attacking. It looked like Iowa’s beleaguered defense was going to get flattened after the Gophers started with the ball on their own 45-yard line and starting that drive with a 19-yard carry by Ibrahim. But after actual bad runs by Mo and then Trey Potts, the Gophers found themselves in a position that hadn’t been in all game: a third-and-long. Faced with an obvious passing play, Kaliakmanis decided to attack Moss in coverage. Moss deflected the ball, alley-ooping it to Jack motherfuckin’ Campbell, who did not step out of bounds and returned the ball all the way into the end zone for a touchdown.
The refs didn’t see it that way, claiming falsely that Jack Campbell stepped out of bounds at the Minnesota 45-yard line. The error kinda worked out for Iowa, though. On the first play after the turnover, Spencer Petras unloaded a play action knockout punch pass down the seam to Luke Lachey for 33 yards. After a few runs to use up Minnesota's timeouts and eat up what remained of the game clock, a Drew Stevens field goal with 28 seconds left gave Iowa a 13-10 lead. With time and the game situation taking Mo runs off the table, it went as well for Minnesota as you would expect. Good guys win.
So here we sit, one win against a crummy Nebraska team away from being able to show up in Indianapolis in boots with a chance to ruin the Big Ten’s black tie affair. The Ohio State game feels like an eon ago. Speaking of which, I know some of you folks are pretty anxious about the prospect of Iowa getting decimated in the Big Ten title game, which sure. Any self-respecting prognosticator is predicting Iowa to lose to Michigan or Ohio State by 21 points minimum. But however long Iowa’s shot is, I’ll take the 1-in-500,000 chance of a Big Ten title than that zero percent chance that happens if they watch Illinois or Purdue in the title game.
But whatever happens in the next couple of weeks, can we take a moment to acknowledge the joyful lunacy of beating Minnesota eight straight times? This rivalry has been a “thing” for over 130 years. In that time, no Hawkeye fans have ever seen eight straight victories against the Gophers. Nor has Floyd resided anywhere, let alone Iowa City, for so long. (My oldest daughter is seven. Save a few dark months after she was born, she has spent her entire life with Floyd residing in Iowa.) Whatever else may be going on at Iowa, this streak of owning Minnesota objectively rules.
* Brian Ferentz. This was probably his best-called game of the year. The running game didn’t click much, but Petras had time to throw and guys were schemed open against a very good defense. (While every other sentence isn’t going to be fire Brian, it is high time he hit the old dusty trail and one decent game doesn’t change that.)
* Spencer Petras. Dude deserves a whole ton of credit. His play isn’t otherworldly or anything, but he has gotten so much better it is astounding. Other than that throw to Nico Ragaini in the 4th quarter, which had just a bit too much spicy mustard on it, he had no glaring mistakes and is playing more than well enough for this team to win against most teams.
* Special Teams. I didn’t highlight them in the main article, but they were a huge part of why Minnesota constantly had the full-length of the field to get to the end zone. Plus, having a kicker that actually makes his kicks is a pretty sweet
* Cooper DeJean. Fewer splash plays than a week ago, but no less crucial. He downed a punt on the 1-yard line again, but even more important was his play on two long runs by Mo Ibrahim, when DeJean sprinted downfield to limit the damage by tackling Ibrahim or forcing him out of bounds. As a reminder, those drives ultimately led to zero points and then three points. Not the sexiest plays, but very very important plays.
* Even though the defense spent the better part of the game getting their asses kicked, this defense kicks ass.
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