IOWA 17, MINNESOTA 10: THE PIG NEEDS NO LIPSTICK

By Adam Jacobi on October 28, 2017 at 10:08 pm
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© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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It wasn't pretty. But there's no column in the standings for "pretty."

Iowa's defense antagonized QB Demry Croft and the rest of the Gopher offense, and an opening-drive touchdown provided a margin the Hawkeyes never relinquished in a 17-10 victory under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa moves to 5-3 (2-3) in the conference and keeps Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City for a third straight year.

Iowa's offense vacillated between efficient and lifeless. The opening drive was a magnificent 5-play, 80-yard stroll down the field, and it looked like the Hawkeyes' offensive woes would take a week off. 

Their next first down came six drives later.

That 7-0 lead cruised all the way to halftime, thanks to an incompetent 4th down play fake by Croft, a goal-line interception by Jake Gervase and a James Butler fumble at the Gopher 21-yard line with under a minute left in the second quarter.

Even as Iowa's offense was nonexistent, the defense was holding up its end of the bargain in spectacular fashion. Though Croft's receivers dropped more than a few passes, he also couldn't get a throw past Josh Jackson. Iowa's star cornerback bolstered his All-American case with four pass breakups, pushing his season total to 15; he came into the game tied for the national lead with 11.

All told, Croft finished a miserable 9-for-29 on the game for 139 yards — and 63 of those came on one play. He also rushed 11 times for a grand total of zero yards. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks were fine rushing the ball for Minnesota; they combined for 24 rushes and 122 yards. Why P.J. Fleck thought they should take a backseat to Croft's arm against Iowa's pass defense, we'll likely never understand. We are, however, thankful.

And yet, even with Minnesota bumbling its way to 281 yards of total offense, Iowa still never fully put this one away, thanks to another game full of predictably conservative playcalling. Nate Stanley only threw two deep balls in his 15-for-27 performance; one was this gorgeous play-action touchdown to Noah Fant that pushed the lead to a wholly insurmountable 14-0...

...and the other was an absolute dime down the sideline to Ihmir Smith-Marsette... who let it bounce off his hands and to a defender for an interception that held up under review*. It was a freakish play, but still the sort of miscue that would land Smith-Marsette in Ferentz's doghouse if the Hawkeyes had anybody else they could give his spot to. The play prompted Iowa to revert to its zone-zone-pass roots, and if there's one thing an opposing defensive coordinator appreciates, it's Iowa shutting the door on itself.

*and maybe shouldn't have. The referees are rarely if ever An Excuse, but the game was shaped in some of its important moments by calls on both sides that were curious at best. Not sure what the answer is, but there needs to be an improvement in the quality of officiating in the Big Ten.

Still, Iowa's approach, for lack of a better term, worked. The offense took advantage of most of its (limited) opportunities, Minnesota never got a lucky bounce and a cheap chance at points, and they had to do more work than they're capable of. That's a win, and that's a long, pigless trip home for the Gophers, quietly rowing their little boat all the way back up The Avenue Of The Saints. Or I-35, I guess I don't know.

As for the Hawkeyes, damn it feels good to have Floyd still home where it belongs. Go Iowa Awesome.  

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