What You Need To Know: Minnesota

SHOCKER: Minnesota is running a play where the quarterback hands off to a running back. - Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Here's your quick refresher on what Minnesota brings to the table and what Iowa fans need to know going into Saturday's game.

Here's the deal: If Minnesota wins this Saturday's game, it'll either be a lousy fluke victory that we can't learn much from or one of the most demoralizing losses of the season. Not because Iowa's heavily favored or anything—it's basically a tossup with Iowa at -1—but because the way Minnesota runs its offense is both 1) effective and 2) right into Iowa's teeth on defense.

Minnesota dual-threat QB Philip Nelson is likely out for the Iowa game as he continues to recover from a lingering hamstring issue, That means the Gophers are likely going with Mitch Leidner under center, and Leidner is at least half-moose. He has 46 rushes and 20 pass attempts on the season, so to call him a "dual-threat" QB is misleading; he's a fullback who's occasionally allowed to throw.

Combine that with big men David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. at tailback, both of whom are just a couple biscuits shy of Ron Dayne and an offensive line that's made huge strides in the last two years, and you've got a Minnesota offense that's going to be about 75-25 run-pass (at least unless/until endgame situations dictate otherwise). And 75-25 might be generous to the passing game.

Now, consider Iowa's defense. Consider what you would rather see James Morris and his coterie of ne'er-do-wells at linebacker do: run support or pass coverage? They've been historically much better when not chasing after receivers, and Anthony Hitchens is finally coming into his own as a devastating playmaker against the run, especially behind the line of scrimmage. Hitchens has four tackles for loss thus far already, just 1.5 off his total from all of last season, and he's on pace for the most TFLs by an Iowa linebacker in at least a decade (Edmond Miles, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge all hit double digits since 2003, but none made it to 12.0).

Further, the one missing piece of Iowa's defensive front for the last couple years has been a rush end. Dominic Alvis is starting to add that to his arsenal, but even with his ability to beat blocks he's not the terror off the edge that can swing a possession over to the defense out of nowhere. If the Gophers want to run at him on 3rd and short, though? Good luck. He can beat 1-on-1 blocks fairly regularly, and he's strong enough to occupy the gap on a double-team and keep the linebacker behind him unmolested. We've seen teams make Alvis look bad before; Minnesota won't be one of those teams.

The rest of Iowa's line is good but not great, and it'll be helped tremendously on Saturday by the depth available. Expect to see Iowa go two-deep at every DL position, keeping legs fresh for all four quarters; that's a necessity against a line that'll be leaning on the Hawkeye front four at every opportunity. Make no mistake, this is a significant challenge for the Iowa defensive front, and it's likely that Minnesota puts together a couple long drives on the day. The key for Iowa is limiting those drives. Bending but not breaking, I believe that's called.

In the secondary, Iowa's probably hampered if Jordan Lomax can't go, and the depth situation at corner is not great. But again: that's not where Minnesota's best equipped to attack the Hawkeyes. Leidner might throw for a few first downs; that usually happens to everyone. But it'll probably be a 10-18, 113-yard type of performance, and hey—fine.

Jerry Kill's a good coach, and he may have tricks up his sleeve for this game, just as he did for Texas Tech in last year's Whatever Nobody's Watching This Bowl when he unleashed the Maryland I on the unsuspecting populace and nearly ran the Red Raiders off the field. But even if there's more of an air game on tap than we're expecting, at the end of the day Minnesota's bread will be buttered with the power run game, and everyone on both sidelines knows it. It's coming.

Thus, if Minnesota controls the tenor of the game, it'll mean the Gophers did so when Iowa knew what was coming, was best-equipped to stop it and still couldn't stop it anyway. That would be devastating. That's the type of loss where you start thinking bout wholesale changes. So... hey, Iowa had better win, eh?

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