TURNING POINT: MINNESOTA

By RossWB on October 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm
Hooray for defense.
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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What was the turning point in Iowa's 17-10 win over Minnesota on Saturday? The glib answer is probably "when Iowa showed up" or "when they scored a touchdown on the opening drive." Obviously, it's not really that simple, but this was a pretty boring game that was largely devoid of drama. Per ESPN, Iowa entered the game with a win probability of around 79%; it never got lower than that over the next four quarters. The win probability chart for the game is an almost straight line, with a few small bumps along the way. Iowa was expected to win and they did just that. 

Iowa obviously didn't play great on offense, but their three scoring drives were sufficient, especially against a Minnesota team that took over 40 minutes of game time to post any points. Iowa didn't win the turnover battle -- they turned it over twice to Minnesota's single giveaway -- but those turnovers didn't end up hurting Iowa. The first turnover was Stanley's unfortunate interception on a beautifully-thrown ball that bounced off Ihmir Smith-Marsette's hansd and into the arms of Jacob Huff. That gave Minnesota the ball at midfield and they did take the ball into the Iowa red zone... at which point they promptly gave the ball back on their interception. If Minnesota had been able to score there to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, do things play out differently? Quite possibly.

But that's not the reality we live in; in our reality, Demry Croft was intercepted by Jake Gervase and the game settled into a steady rhythm of punting. No, really: there were eight straight punts after that.

Iowa Minnesota puntfest

So B1G. 

After that the rhythm of punting was interrupted for Iowa's second turnover -- James Butler's fumble when gang-tackled by Minnesota late in the first half -- but there wasn't much opportunity for Minnesota to take advantage of that miscue; they got the ball on their own 21-yard line with 44 seconds left in the half and with a quarterback in Demry Croft who is not exactly ready to excel in two-minute drills just yet. 

The second half featured a bit more excitement (emphasis on "a bit") -- Iowa and Minnesota each scored a touchdown and a field goal after the break -- but nothing that changed the narrative of the game much. Once Iowa got a two touchdown lead on this Minnesota offense it was going to be hard for them to mount an effective comeback, which was borne out by the rest of the game. That said, Iowa's second touchdown -- Stanley's bomb to Fant -- feels less like a turning point than an exclamation point (or perhaps, given the general dullness of this game, a simple period). The show was over and you were free to leave the windy confines of Kinnick Stadium at that point without fear of missing anything; Iowa and Minnesota played out the string for the remaining 26 minutes of game time, but if you had left you would have mostly just missed some more punting (seven more punts, to be precise). 

So what was the "turning point" on Saturday? If anything, the turning point was that Iowa didn't make the costly errors that have resulted in losses in some of their other slow-scoring slogs this year. They (mostly) scored points when they had the opportunity to do so (minus the fumble drive at the end of the first half), which was a crippling problem against Michigan State (two fumbles in MSU territory, most critically Stanley's blooper near the end zone) and Northwestern (zero points on two opening drives into jNW territory), and they (mostly) limited Minnesota's opportunities to hurt them, either forcing them to punt (nine times!) or coming up with timely defense, like forcing a turnover on downs on 4th and 1 from the Iowa 7 on an incomplete pass or getting that Gervase interception on Minnesota's next drive. And that was that. 

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