Through the first five games of the season, I think it’s more than fair to say most Hawkeye fans have been left extremely disappointed with how things have played out so far this season — myself being one of them.
However, despite the poor play on both sides of the ball, the season goes on and this Saturday the Hawkeyes will look to defend the Floyd of Rosedale trophy against none other than the Minnesota Gophers. So what exactly are the Gophers bringing to the table?
How Good is Quarterback Mitch Leidner?
I’ll make this answer short and sweet and the delve into a little bit of analysis: From a talent perspective, no. He’s not good. With that said, he’s made it habit of tearing up the Hawkeyes’ defense, so I’m not quite sure where that leaves us.
When you take the time to really sit down and analyze Leidner’s game, a lot of his struggles originate from his sloppy and lazy mechanics — turns in to a statue in the pocket, dips his front shoulder constantly, and doesn’t coordinate his feet. Because of this, Leidner often times will miss open receivers by simply sailing the ball over their heads, putting it in the ground two or more feet in front of his receiver, or just put the ball behind his target. Also, this isn’t simply an isolated issue with his Leidner’s game either, as it shows up in every game he performs in.
However, in the past, Leidner has had success in putting up respectable numbers against the Hawkeyes and a big part of that is the damage he can do when gets outside of the pocket with his legs, as he supports a large frame and above average athleticism for the position. I know us Hawkeye fans don’t want to relive the home loss at the hands of the North Dakota State Bison, but Leidner in a lot of ways reminds me of Bison quarterback Easton Stick, who carved up the Hawkeyes, specifically on their game-winning drive; the Hawkeyes have better come prepared in regards to defending the quarterback run game this Saturday.
A Strong Running Game With Dynamic Playmakers
In recent weeks, the Hawkeyes have struggled mightily when defending against the run and that does not become an easier task this Saturday, as the Gophers easily have the most talented and most productive backfield the Hawkeyes have seen.
On the season, the majority of the carries on offense have gone to sophomore Rodney Smith — 82 through the first four games — as fellow sophomore Shannon Brooks missed the first two games with an injury. With Brooks even closer to full health, expect him to see a large portion of the carries this Saturday.
Although Smith has shown to be a valuable piece for this offense through the first four games, there’s no question that Brooks is the more dynamic back and he’ll certainly be the toughest challenge at running back that the Hawkeyes have faced since their run in with Christian McCaffrey in last year’s Rose Bowl debacle.
As a Hawkeye fan, you have to go into this game thinking that Brooks will get his production, it’ll simply be a matter of not letting that define the game.
Despite Big Plays, The Gophers’ Defense is Loaded With Talent
So, I have some bad news Hawkeye fans. With the Iowa’s offense really sputtering the last few weeks, it’ll be even more difficult to get back on track against what has looked like an overall talented defense so far this.
Although the Gophers’ secondary surrendered 335 passing yards in last weekend’s loss to Penn State, the run game was a rock through the first four quarters, as they were able to hold arguably the best running back in the country, Saquon Barkley, to just 38 yards on 19 carries.
The Gopher defensive front seven is led by junior defensive tackle, Steven Richardson, who has shown to be one of the best interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten despite being one of the least talked about. He’s an immovable object in the middle of the defense and he’s an explosive game changer when he’s allowed to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
In addition to Richardson, the Gopher defense also sports some talented pieces on the backend with senior safety Damarius Travis and cornerback Jalen Myrick, as well as true freshman nickel corner Antoine Winfield Jr., — yes, that’s Antoine Winfield’s son — who broke onto the scene last Saturday against the Nittany Lions.
Gophers depth chart shows starting linebacker Cody Poock and key safety Duke McGhee as out vs. Iowa. DE Tai'yon Devers also remains out.— Andy Greder (@andygreder) October 4, 2016
This Saturday, the Gophers will be a little bit thinner at linebacker and will be missing a couple key run-stopping contributors in starting junior linebacker Cody Poock and junior defensive back and linebacker hybrid Duke McGhee. With that said, the Gophers still have productive senior linebacker Jack Lynn suiting up. However, the Hawkeyes’ struggling run game certainly caught a break with these injuries
With Poock, McGhee and star true freshman and team sack leader Tai’yon Devers all being held out of this Saturday’s game, it should, in theory, alleviate some of the difficulties in regards to moving the ball successfully on offense. However, when you look at the performances the Hawkeyes have displayed the last few weeks, there’s still plenty of talent on this Gophers’ defense to make things difficult for Beathard and company. It’ll be interesting to see how the offense performs after a real gut checking loss at home against Northwestern last weekend.
The Bounce Back?
If the Hawkeyes are to bounce back after three straight games of outright disappointment this weekend, it’ll come down to the offense being able to execute with consistency, as they’ve looked stagnant to say the least.
Although Minnesota hasn’t looked the greatest through their first four games, this Gophers team is still talented enough to present the Hawkeyes with a real challenge. If Iowa doesn’t show some encouraging signs of progress on both sides of the ball this Saturday, it’ll be extremely difficult for them to win this game.