#20 Iowa 27, Minnesota 22 : The Only Winning Move

By RossWB on November 14, 2021 at 1:42 am
go hawks go
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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First things first: Floyd is staying home in Iowa City, where he belongs. For the seventh straight game overall (and the 10th straight time in Iowa City), Iowa has beaten Minnesota. That never stops being enjoyable and seeing Iowa players hoist Floyd over their heads in celebration never gets old. 

But it really makes very little damn sense that Iowa won that game. Minnesota out-gained Iowa by 132 yards (409 to 227), dominated Iowa on the ground (189-71 edge in rushing yards), doubled Iowa up in time of possession (40:19 to 19:41), held Iowa to 4/12 on third downs, and won the turnover battle (+1). So how did Iowa win the game? Well... 

* The famous BIG PLAY IOWA OFFENSE strutted its stuff. Iowa's first touchdown was set up by a 34-yard laser from Alex Padilla to Charlie Jones. 

Two plays later Padilla surged into the end zone on -- what else? -- a QB sneak. 

Iowa's second touchdown was a beautiful 72-yard toss from Padilla to (again) Jones. 

Iowa's third and final touchdown was the result of a risky throw from Padilla and some absolute Houdini work from Keagan Johnson to escape two tacklers in the backfield to tiptoe along the sideline 27-yard touchdown. 

HOW?????

Iowa's other eight drives went for a grand total of 84 yards of offense. 

* All those yards and time of possession the Iowa defense conceded to the Gopher offense? There was a lot of bending on Iowa's part today... but not too much breaking. Of course, that was in part thanks to PJ Fleck's conservative approach at several points. He twice had the Gophers kick field goals on fourth-and-short from inside the Iowa 11-yard line and punted from the Iowa 43-yard line as well. He also had Minnesota attempt a 53-yard field goal try that was blocked. Despite averaging almost four yards per carry and regularly getting yards in short yardage situations, the Gophers blinked a few times and that proved costly. 

* Brian Ferentz is Iowa's official offensive coordinator, but I think we know the real mastermind behind the offensive decision-making at Iowa: 

wargames

All hail WOPR. 

A month after Iowa beat Penn State in a game in which Kirk Ferentz took three straight knees at the end of the game, despite the fact that doing so wouldn't run out the clock and would require Iowa to punt the ball back to Penn State while holding onto a slender 3-point lead. Saturday Ferentz doubled down on the decision to do as little as possible on offense when an opportunity to secure victory is available. After the defense stopped Minnesota on 4th-and-17 from their own 3-yard line, the offense took over with first-and-goal and needing just three yards to score a touchdown and give themselves an insurmountable 9-point lead. Instead, Iowa called two straight QB sneaks and a stretch run play to the outside from Tyler Goodson that lost four yards, despite the fact that those runs (a) haven't worked well all year and (b) hadn't been working well in this game.

To recap: after inheriting the ball on the three-yard line, Iowa's offense made only a cursory effort to score a touchdown (even though doing so would have ended the game) and ended up losing eight yards (they also took a 5-yard delay of game penalty on fourth down. Playing it (extremely) safe and kicking a field goal bled block and prevented Minnesota from being able to win with a field goal try, but it also left Iowa vulnerable to a touchdown at the end of the game. They avoided that... but not by a lot. Minnesota was able to drive to the Iowa 39 and had a chance for a game-winning hail mary. Fortunately, that try was dashed by a walk-off sack for the Iowa defense, but Iowa was still playing with fire in that scenario and was lucky to not get burnt. All because Ferentz trusts his defense to do damn near anything while refusing to let his offense even try to gain three yards and secure a win. We can't pretend to be surprised when Ferentz does shit like this, but it doesn't make it much less frustrating. 

A few other quick thoughts: 

  • Alex Padilla's overall stat line in his first start was a bit pedestrian -- 11/24, 206 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT -- but I thought he played a bit better than those numbers suggest. He was victimized by at least 4-5 drops by his pass-catchers. But he absolutely nailed the two deep passes to Jones, showed good awareness in the pocket, eluded pressure well, and mostly made good decisions with the ball. (He wasn't perfect on that front, though, as there were a few passes where he tried to fit the ball into too-small windows.) Iowa's offense still has a lot of problems, but Padilla's presence at QB seems too ameliorate a few of those problems. 
  • Speaking of those problems... another rough game for the OL in the running game. Iowa ran the ball 25 times for just 71 yards, a pitiful 2.8 yards per carry. As we've seen often (too often) throughout the season, there were multiple times throughout the game when there were defenders waiting in the backfield as soon as Tyler Goodson got the ball. That's a recipe for failure almost every time. 
  • Iowa struggled to get pressure on Tanner Morgan for a lot of the game, but that changed a bit late and a big part of that was the play of Zach VanValkenburg. He finished with 10 tackles (six solo), three tackles for loss, a sack, and a QB hurry. He made multiple big plays late in the game and finally getting some negative plays against the Gopher offense made a huge difference for Iowa's defense. 
  • Matt Hankins had a very up-and-down game. The big down? Getting burned on a 68-yard touchdown pass to Minnesota's Chris Autman-Bell. But he also finished with 10 tackles and two passes defended and made some key break-ups late in the game to secure the win. So it was far from a flawless game for him, but he also came through with some big plays when Iowa needed them, which is always worth celebrating. 
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