This little piggy came home.
Nate Stanley threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns, and a weakened Iowa secondary came up with four interceptions as the Hawkeyes outpaced Minnesota, 48-31, on a dreary afternoon in Minneapolis. Iowa improves to 4-1 (1-1) on the season, and a trip to Indiana looms for next week.
With the win, Iowa brings Floyd of Rosedale back where it belongs for the fourth straight year. If Floyd has been sufficiently studious, that's enough for him to earn a degree from the UI; four wins is also one away from tying the Iowa record streak in this rivalry, achieved four times, including once by Ferentz from 2001-2005.
Don't worry Gopher fans, Floyd is well taken care of in Iowa City. pic.twitter.com/ltTbY7at0t
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) October 6, 2018
Iowa looked like a different team on offense this week; it's not the first time Stanley has been productive in the pocket, but he involved his wide receivers and put them in position to succeed to as good of an extent as ever in his Hawkeye career. Ihmir Smith-Marsette led the way with 78 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Smith finally broke out with an impressive five-catch, 68-yard showing and Nick Easley led the Hawkeyes with six catches and a score. That's a critical development in the progression of Iowa's offense into something that can carry the Hawkeyes farther than 5-4 in conference play.
And yet, TE T.J. Hockenson still might have had the best day of any Iowa receiver, thanks not only to three catches for 49 yards and a TD, but this absolutely insane fake field goal that Hockenson ran in for a four-yard score:
The most new Kirk "New Kirk" play yet?
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 6, 2018
That is a preposterous play, not only in design but execution. It was also a clear reminder to P.J. Fleck and company that Kirk and his sideline don't plan on making anything easy for the Gophers any time soon.
The story of the game, though, looked like it would be on defense as Iowa lost its two starting cornerbacks, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins. In their place was a pair of true freshmen, the highly-touted Julius Brents and the, um, less-touted Riley Moss. And sure enough, Minnesota QB Alex Annexstad helped himself to mountains of yardage at will by throwing at Moss for most of the first half. WRs Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman combined for 13 catches, 172 yards and 3 TDs, and 1) much of that came at Moss' expense; and 2) that seemed like a conservative estimate as late as the third quarter.
The one way to survive having two true freshman cornerbacks concurrently making their starting debuts, however, is to have a true freshman quarterback throwing against them, and lo and behold, Annexstad obliged with some truly terrible decisions. Annexstad faced pressure early and often against the Hawkeyes, and when he wasn't being dragged down for a sack (Iowa logged 5 on the day), he was chucking up prayer balls to nobody in particular, which led to four interceptions—including two by, yes, Riley Moss. Brents also obliged with an interception, and as Hawkeye statistical deity Matt Benson noted, that's probably a first:
I'm going to guess this is the first time in school history where two true freshman corners have picked off a pass in the same game while both making their starting debuts. #proveitsnot
— Matt Benson (@mbenson6) October 6, 2018
The injury concerns went beyond the cornerback situation, though, and could have more significant consequences. Late in the first half, starting MLB Jack Hockaday was helped off the field, and he returned later on crutches. The BTN sideline reporter noted he was getting his knee worked on, and knee injuries have a tendency to take a while. TE Noah Fant was also removed from the game after hitting his head hard on the turf—please note that we are taking a long, angry sigh before typing this next part out—after hurdling his own blocker on a tight end sweep that ended in a loss of two anyway. We're not diagnosing the concussion, but that's almost certainly what team doctors are concerned about.
Fant is obviously the big deal here, but Hockaday had been solid in the middle for Iowa's defense. To make matters worse, replacement Amani Jones was flagged for targeting* in the fourth quarter, so unless Hockaday's injury is actually minor (possible, not plausible, certainly not probable), Iowa's going to have to move Kristian Welch inside and go with, let's say, Barrington Wade and Djimon Colbert at OLB and WLB. We'll probably see some true freshmen playing as well. Against an athletic Indiana offense? Not great, Bob!
*The targeting call was ehhhhhhhhhhhh, at best. The impact was worse than the act. It would have been nice if referees were allowed to change a call to, say, unnecessary roughness; you can convince us that was an excessively hard hit, but to say he was targeting the receiver above the shoulders or leading with his helmet is patently incorrect.
Still, there was a lot to like here. Forty-eight points is—not sure if you've heard about this—really, really good, and the game would not have been close were it not for a pair of very short Minnesota touchdown drives. It still wasn't *that* close. Iowa scored points at will and survived at least the first part of a potentially catastrophic injury situation. Next man in, and all. The two turnovers deep in Iowa territory were extremely bad, especially a Stanley pick that he'll look back on 50 years from now and consider the worst pass he ever threw. If disaster can strike twice and you still win by 17 on the road in a trophy game? Life's all right.
Onto Bloomington. GO IOWA AWESOME.