Iowa vs Minnesota: What We're Watching For

By RossWB on November 19, 2022 at 8:00 am
go hawks go
© Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register / USA TODAY NETWORK
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WHO: Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten)
WHEN: 3:00 PM CT (Saturday, November 19)
WHERE: Huntington Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, MN)
TV: FOX
ANNOUNCERS: Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 382 (app 972
STREAM: FoxSports.com
MOBILE: Fox Sports app 
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: temps around 15 (-4 wind chill), 15 mph winds
LINE: Minnesota -2.5 (Total: 32.5)

NOTE: Don't forget to follow all the action during the game and chat with your fellow Iowa fans in the Go Iowa Awesome discord! (More info here.)

There will be cold. So much cold. 

Iowa and Wisconsin rose to dominance in the Big Ten West by copying each other's blueprint for success. Given that, it's hardly a surprise that Iowa and Wisconsin's other key rival -- Minnesota -- has engineered its own turnaround and return to Big Ten relevance by doing pretty much the same thing. Under PJ Fleck, the Gophers have been built around burly, bruising offensive lines, potent running games, and (increasingly) stingy, hard-hitting defenses. Sounds a lot like teams that we're familiar with, no? 

In terms of statistics, Iowa and Minnesota appear very evenly matched on the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota ranks 4th in scoring defense (13.1 ppg), Iowa ranks 5th (13.9 ppg). Iowa ranks 3rd in total defense (260.7 ypg), Minnesota ranks 8th (274.0 ypg). Iowa ranks 8th in rushing defense (88.6 ypg), Minnesota ranks 14th (106.8 ypg). Minnesota ranks 8th in passing defense (167.2 ypg), Iowa ranks 10th 172.1 ypg). 

That said, there are some notable differences between the Iowa and Minnesota differences when you look a little closer. Iowa is averaging an NCAA-best 3.81 yards per play, which is downright miserly. Minnesota is averaging 4.83 yards per play, which ranks 15th nationally. Minnesota's defense has also seen almost 120 fewer plays than Iowa's defense thanks to the Gopher offense posting an average time of possession of almost 36 minutes per game, 2nd best nationally (Iowa's offense averages almost 29 minutes per game, which ranks 90th nationally). They've seen, on average, almost 12 fewer plays per game than Iowa has this year. That difference comes through in the run defense as well, where Iowa is allowing just 2.55 yards per carry (2nd best), while Minnesota is allowing 3.8 yards per carry (46th). 

The opposition each team has faced also factors into those stats. Minnesota has allowed 13 points or fewer in seven of 10 games this season, but they also gave up 20 points to Purdue, 26 to Illinois, and 45 to Penn State. Iowa has allowed 13 points or fewer in eight of 10 games this season, and they've only bled points against Michigan (27) and Ohio State (54), who rank 5th and 2nd, respectively, in scoring offense this season. 

Of course, the main difference between Iowa and Minnesota is that the Gophers combine a rock solid defense with a very competent offense, while Iowa... does not. Minnesota ranks 49th in scoring offense (30.6 ppg) and 57th in total offense (403.7 ypg). Most of that offensive productivity comes from the running game, which is averaging 221.2 ypg (14th), 4.8 ypc (32nd), with 31 touchdowns (3rd). (For the record, Iowa has 15 offensive touchdowns total this season.) The main source of that running game excellence is Mo Ibrahim, who has 1261 rushing yards (6th), 18 TD (1st), and averages 140.1 ypg (4th). Ibrahim is a force, no question. 

The Gopher passing game is roughly as ineffective as the Iowa passing game, though. Minnesota averages 182.5 ypg, which ranks 117th. (Iowa averages 152.7 ypg, which ranks 123rd.) Gopher QBs are completing 61.1% of their passes with 8 TD and 8 interceptions. (Iowa QBs are completing 55.7% of their passes with 5 TD and 6 interceptions.) I don't need to elaborate any further, do I? It's grim stuff. 

So you have a matchup of two teams that are best at running the ball (or, in Iowa's case, wants to run the ball at least; they're not particularly good at anything on offense) and that both have patchy, inconsistent (and largely ineffective) passing offenses. Both teams also have stout defenses that are particularly good at stopping the run. That looks like a set-up for a pretty evenly-matched game -- and on top of that, you have the weather conditions: bitterly cold (air temperatures in the low teens, but wind chills below zero) with gusty wind. That weather is probably going to make passing even more impossible in this game. 

But can either team run the ball effectively against these defenses -- especially if the defenses can load up to slow the run without much fear of the passing attacks making them pay? This feels very much like a game that's going to be decided by special teams, turnovers, and just plain weirdness (strange bounces, awkward deflections, slips, etc.). Both teams are +5 in turnover margin on the year; Iowa has 18 turnovers against 13 giveaways; Minnesota has 16 turnovers against 11 giveaways. Both teams have 12 interceptions on the season. Iowa has had slightly worse fumble luck (7 lost fumbles versus 3 for Minnesota), while the Gophers have thrown slightly more interceptions (8 versus 6). 

As far as special teams go, Iowa has an edge in punting (45.5 yards per punt, 6th nationally vs 39.8 yards per punt, 107th nationally) and punt returns (9.8 yards per return, 39th nationally vs 6.8 yards per return, 75th nationally). Minnesota has a slight edge in field goals (11/12 vs 14/18), although Drew Stevens is 13/15 since taking over the placekicker job. 

PREDICTION 

Minnesota is at home, they do have the most potent offensive weapon (Mo Ibrahim), and they're going to end their losing streak to Iowa one of these years... but it doesn't feel like this is going to be that year. A weird, low-scoring, defense-first game? That's Iowa's bread-and-butter, baby. Iowa lives in the weird and embraces low-scoring games. The Iowa defense is also the best unit in this game. I think the defense will be able to slow down Ibrahim and force a few turnovers that either lead to points directly or set up the Iowa offense with some favorable field position -- and that will be the difference in a meeting that may look more like a demolition derby than a football game.

IOWA 17, MINNESOTA 13

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