Opponent: Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5, 1-4 B1G West, unranked)
Saturday, November 14, 7 p.m., Kinnick Stadium
Television: Big Ten Network
Kickoff weather: 48 degrees and clear, with temperatures dropping slowly during the game.
Terrible Observational Comedian: 7 p.m. kickoff, huh? That's during dinner time! You guys ever eat dinner? Crazy stuff, man, dinner. It's like one day it's a burrito, but then the next day, hey what's for dinner, oh it's SWARMS OF WASPS.
WHEN MINNESOTA HAS THE BALL
After having watched David Cobb and Maxx Williams go off to the NFL where they belong, the 2015 Gophers' offense has generally gone as far as Mitch Leidner has taken it—which is to say, it has not gone very far. Leidner hasn't had much help, especially with injuries taxing his offensive line (three starters have missed significant time, and only tackle Ben Lauer looks to be ready to go for Iowa) and his tailbacks (freshmen Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks were both injured last week and are questionable this Saturday).
The line is obviously the biggest concern for the Gophers, especially against Iowa's stingy defensive front. Leidner is a horse, but he's hardly elusive at 6'4" and 236 pounds, and if the inexperienced patchwork interior of the Gophers' line can't clear guys like Jaleel Johnson out of the rushing lanes, Leidner won't be able to get a head of steam or get to defenders who are at least smaller than him. Indeed, Leidner's yards per rush have been halved since his freshman year, and the more he calls his own number on Saturday, the less he'll be forcing Iowa's defenders out of their comfort zone.
Minnesota does have weapons; WR KJ Maye (I apologize if his name causes a nervous tic after last year's game, I get it) has finally emerged as the primary target of the Gopher air attack, and Minnesota has given him seven rushes on top of it all. Maye's not a big dude—he's listed at 5'10 and 199, which, okay buddy—but he's a demon in the open field and he can wiggle free from just about any cornerback in coverage. Junior Drew Wolitarsky is also emerging as a force in the passing game after slimming down from 230 to 215 pounds, marking the first time in American history someone has moved from California to Minnesota and lost weight. Anyway, it's not like Iowa's cornerbacks have never seen a 6'3" wideout before, and if Greg Mabin gets that assignment Wolitarsky will have more trouble than he's used to bodying out his defender on jump balls, but it'll be a battle.
Make no mistake, though: Minnesota is having a rough season rushing the ball, 101st in the nation in rushing offense while earning 3.88 yards per pop, and Leidner is ranked 91st in passer efficiency. Minnesota is dead last in scoring in the Big Ten; against Iowa's stingy defense the Gophers might well struggle just to get to the end zone once.
Terrible Observational Comedian: Santa Claus, man, what's up with that guy?
Oh, because he climbs in through your chimney? Yeah, creepy!
Terrible Observational Comedian: No, because he eats cookies, like whoa pal, those better be gluten-free!
...why would they need to be gluten-free?
Terrible Observational Comedian: That's the only way they taste good, duh!
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
Hey, did we mention injuries? Both teams remain banged up here, and for once Iowa's offense won't be hurting as badly as its foes across the ball.
C.J. Beathard should have a slightly easier time getting his primary receivers free, as Minnesota's two top reserve corners are out for the game. Jalen Myrick suffered lung injuries at Ohio State that will take him out for the rest of the year, and Craig James broke his leg six weeks ago at Northwestern; there's been no indication that he'll return for Iowa. Senior starters Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray are healthy and talented, but Iowa would be wise to test the Gophers' depth here.
It's possible to run on Minnesota, but Iowa might not have the personnel to do it with Beathard unlikely to have designed runs called for him. OSU and Nebraska averaged almost 200 yards on the ground against the Gophers, but Michigan's relatively straightforward attack mustered only 127 yards on the ground; it's truly a wonder the Wolverines won that game. Iowa's going to have to do something to slow Minnesota's linebackers down, and here we have great news: Jordan Canzeri is probable to return from his ankle injury at Northwestern, and he's been getting the same practice workload as his fellow tailbacks this week.
Canzeri gives Iowa the closest thing to a "complete" runner; he's fast, durable and an outright menace in the screen game. Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels, Jr. are talented, but they're very complementary, and Derrick Mitchell is still just scratching the surface of his potential. What Canzeri does for the passing game alone should give pause to opposing linemen who find themselves with a free lane to Beathard, and his presence in the backfield doesn't tip Iowa's hand as to what matchups it'll try to exploit.
This is the first game in which all four running backs (termed by Canzeri as the "Four Deadly Horsemen"—we are FOR THIS) will be healthy; indeed, no running back has participated in more than seven of Iowa's nine games this year. Iowa doesn't need all four for its running game to be fully operational, obviously, but unless further calamity strikes the Hawkeyes will not need to rely on tired legs for the rest of the season.
The Hashtag Narrative all season has been that Iowa doesn't have a strong offense. Now we see the Hawkeyes facing a legitimately strong Gopher defense, and maybe here comes the reckoning? But Iowa fans shouldn't be too worried, ast he Hawkeyes' supposedly iffy offensive production has done some of its best work against its best competition. Obviously the 221-yard outing at Wisconsin was not ideal, but among the four upper-level defenses the Hawkeyes have faced (No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 18 Northwestern, No. 27 Pitt and No. 31 Illinois), the Hawkeyes have averaged a robust 26.5 points and 388.5 yards per game.
That's significantly above average; when not facing Iowa, these teams allow 18.1 points per game and 311 yards per game. Indeed, it's Iowa's general penchant for burning clock in the second half over absolutely burying substandard defenses that gives the Hawkeyes their reputation for having a mediocre offense, and anyone who agonized through the third quarters of the Indiana and Maryland games knows this is not a hollow criticism.
And yet when Iowa needs to move the ball, Iowa moves the ball. The Hawkeyes have never trailed by more than a touchdown this season, and the Hawkeyes have punted with a deficit exactly once: down 3-0 to Wisconsin in the first quarter, from the Badger 40-yard line. Beathard's passer rating is 22 points higher when Iowa is trailing, and he has thrown four touchdowns in just 34 attempts in that situation. With all due respect to Stephen Jackson, C.J. Beathard makes love to pressure, and if Iowa finds itself down on Saturday it won't be for long.
Terrible Observational Comedian: Any homeowners around here? Show of hands, owning your own home? Yeah. Wow. American dream, right? How many of you have garages, clap if you've got a garage, yeah. You ever notice garage doors? Doors go up, doors go down. That's what garage doors do.
Honestly: was this entire premise a flimsy excuse to put my Vine on BHGP? Wait, I'm the one writing this whole thing, I can answer it: yes.
The aforementioned injury to Myrick hampers Minnesota here too, as he was the team's primary kick returner and as William Likely proved two weeks ago, Iowa's kick coverage is at times suspect. Minnesota's is good but not great; one shouldn't expect a score to be busted on either side here this week.
Similarly, Desmond King might not take one to the house on a punt return, but Iowa should expect a significant advantage when the Gophers have to punt the ball. Minnesota's punt coverage team has allowed 274 return yards, fourth-worst in FBS and the worst among teams who haven't allowed a touchdown. Whether Iowa can get King the open space he needs by rushing the punter and occupying the protection team longer or just setting up return blocks is, well, a question beyond my pay grade. But Iowa needs to put pressure on the Gophers here.
Minnesota kicker Ryan Santoso has been automatic inside 40 yards (9/9) and suspect outside it (5/9); it's almost as if long field goals are harder. Kirk Ferentz hasn't seemed thrilled with Marshall Koehn as of late, but that may have coincided with an increased confidence in Iowa's ability to convert fourth downs. Don't be surprised if Koehn gets asked to kick in a situation similar to where Iowa has gone for it on 4th down earlier this season.
Terrible Observational Comedian: And don't be surprised if the Pope fights the Royal Family for money!
I would actually be very surprised by this.
Terrible Observational Comedian: Yeah right, buddy. Hollywood!
But they're not even from this countr—
Terrible Observational Comedian: HOLLYWOOOOOOD.
Iowa 27, Minnesota 6
Terrible Observational Comedian: Here's my prediction: my wife chastises me for never flushing the toilet!
Wait, you're totally suppo—
Terrible Observational Comedian: Women, am I right?