Is it me or does this year's battle for the Floyd of Rosedale seem to be missing the usual hate leading up to the game? No hot Twitter taeks. Hate pieces (yet). Comment sections turning into the Battle of the Bulge. Yet and still, Iowa fans shouldn't forget this: Minnesota 51, Iowa 14. Last year's matchup was embarrassing to the team, the fans and the program. This year you can't help but feel for Minnesota with what's been going on with Jerry Kill and his all too soon retirement for health reasons. That being said: Iowa is 9-0, Minnesota stands in our way to 10-0 and I want payback for 2014.
On Defense: Linebacker vs. Quarterback
For better or for worse: Minnesota's offense goes at Mitch Leidner goes. Of the 359 yards per game that the Gophers average per game (they rank 102nd in the nation in total offense), Leidner is responsible for 228 of them. He also averages 9.6 of the Minnesota's 20.3 points per game (worst in the Big Ten in PPG). So it shouldn't come as any surprise when you look back at their prior three games and see that Leidner has thrown/ran for five of the six Gopher touchdowns. This probably comes as a surprise to a lot of people, including yours truly, who watched Leidner play some truly awful football the first half of the season.
So how did he turn it around? To start, he stopped making love to wide receivers with his eyes and started getting the ball out sooner. This may be schematic or it may be Leidner making great adjustments. Either way, it's working.
The thing about Leidner is that his arm isn't what concerns me. It's his legs. For a guy that stands 6'4 and weighs just under 240 pounds, he can move pretty well. Not only can he keep it on the zone read but he can use his feet to keep the play alive. See here:
That's where the linebackers come in. Last week against Indiana the Hawkeyes struggled to get to Sudfeld without help from Niemann, Jewell or Fisher. Admittedly, Indiana's offensive line is probably better than Minnesota's (especially with injuries), but if Iowa is going to bring pressure with their linebackers they best not miss. The last thing we want is Mitch Leidner out there wheeling and dealing because Iowa lost contain and their linebackers are 15 yards up the field focusing on the receivers.
On Offense: Tight-End vs. Linebacker
What Minnesota lacks in offense they make up for with tremendous defense. The Gophers rank 22nd in the nation in total defense*, only allowing 330 yards per game. Their rush defense is above average, ranking 51st in the nation and allowing 153 yards per game. Their true strength, as expected coming into the season, comes in the secondary. Minnesota's pass defense is 15th in the nation. They only give up 177 passing yards per game.**
This is an impressive number considering all of the injuries the Gophers have suffered throughout the season. Starting safety, Damarius Travis was lost to a season-ending hamstring injury and his one-time backup, Ace Rogers, has missed time with a knee problem. Jalen Myrick, the co-starter at cornerback and team leader in interceptions was lost to a season-ending rib injury during the Ohio State game. Backup CB Craig James is also dealing with a leg injury (no, not that Craig James... #RememberThe5).
So why linebackers? Well, the secondary isn't going to miraculously collapse and Iowa is probably going to get their yards on the ground. That's why I look for Iowa to take advantage of Minnesota's linebackers. And it isn't even that Minnesota's linebackers aren't good. It's just that they aren't as strong as the secondary.
They start two upperclassmen in Jack Lynn and De'Vondre Campbell and while Cody Poock wasn't listed as Minnesota's starter last week, I expect him to be a go against Iowa. Poock, a one-time Reiver, is the co-team leader in tackles, and Lynn leads the team in tackles for loss. The trio has a combined interception, three pass breakups, and 3.5 sacks.
Over the past two games, Iowa's tight ends have a combined six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. That doesn't seem like a lot but consider that of the six receptions, five of them resulted in a first down or better. The sole reception that didn't result in a first down still went for nine yards. Interesting stat: did you know that George Kittle is averaging 15.1 yards per reception? Henry Krieger-Coble only averages 10.1.
This isn't to say that Iowa needs to go all New England Patriots and start dominating with tight ends (whatever happened to that Ohio State gameplan, anyway?). It is to say that Iowa will need crucial first downs against a stout Minnesota defense and Beathard should look to Kittle and Krieger-Coble for 10+ yard gains or better yet, scoring opportunities.
* - Despite being 22nd in the nation the Gopher's only rank seventh in the Big Ten. How impressive is it that the top six defenses in the nation are in the Big Ten?
** - Again, despite Minnesota ranking 15th in pass defense they're only 6th in the Conference. We play some defense in the B1G ya'll.