With seven games in the books this season and a disappointing 1-3 start to open conference play, many members of the Hawkeyes fan base are either teetering on the line of hitting the panic button or are about a week removed from already doing so. However, with the Gophers coming into Kinnick this weekend and with Floyd once again up for grabs, I think it’s fair to give this Hawkeyes team once last chance before we go ahead and declare them dead.
With that said, as I already mentioned, this Saturday the next addition to the history of the battle for Floyd of Rosedale will be added with a fresh new face on the Gophers’ sideline.
The Polarizing P.J. Fleck
Coming into Saturday with an overall record of 4-3 and a disappointing 1-3 record in conference play, which includes three losses in their last four games, the Gophers haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in their first season under first-year head coach, P.J. Fleck.
On social media, Coach Fleck is apparently one of the more controversial coaches in the Big Ten, as his high strung, energetic approach to coaching and usage — some may say over usage — of the term “elite” or the mantra “row the boat” tends to put many people off the Fleck bandwagon. With that said, there’s no denying the success Fleck has experienced throughout his coaching career after taking a lowly 1-11 Western Michigan to a 13-0 regular season in a span of only four seasons.
Although this year’s Gopher team has yet to find their stride, with Fleck at the helm the program is finally beginning to establish a culture, an identity, and, in my opinion, are beginning to trend in the right direction as a whole.
When The Gophers Are On Offense
On offense, the Gophers have really struggled to create any kind of rhythm or consistency and it’s reflected in the box score, as the Gophers currently rank 104th in total offense and 115th in passing offense.
The biggest issue for the Gophers this season has been at quarterback, as the coaching has gone back and forth with sophomore Demry Kroft and Conor Rhoda. However, for the time being at least, Kroft seems to be the guy moving forward and that doesn’t necessarily mean good things for the Gophers offense after coming off a five completion, two interception performance against a truly hapless Illinois team.
With that said, although Kroft may not be the most prolific passer the Hawkeyes have seen this season, he does bring an aspect of athleticism to the table, which is something that Hawkeyes have struggled with at times over the years.
With every Gophers team in recent memory, the real threat on offense never really involves the passing game, as the Gophers rushing attack has always been prevalent and dangerous. This season is no exception.
On the ground, the Gophers rank 43rd in the nation in rushing offense, as they sport a dynamic four-man rushing attack, which includes junior running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, senior running back Kobe McCrary, and the aforementioned sophomore quarterback Demry Kroft.
Out of those four, Smith is the lead dog and is the guy who will receive most of the backfield touches in a down-in, down-out basis. However, each adds brings a little something different to the table, as Brooks is more of an explosive, big-play guy and McCrary is the most physical.
In my opinion, Brooks is the guy who could potentially cause the most trouble for the Hawkeyes this Saturday, as points may be hard to come by and the Hawkeyes defense has been prone to giving up big plays on the ground at times this season.
If last week is any indication, the Hawkeyes will need to be able to pick up stops on third down and prevent Kroft from doing too much damage with his legs, as points may potentially be very scarce this Saturday.
When The Gophers Are On Defense
This past offseason, the Gophers defense graduated some pretty impactful talent in the form of linebacker Jack Lynn, safety Damarius Travis, and cornerback Jalen Myrick. With that said, all things considered, the Gophers have impressed on defense this season, as they currently rank 22nd in total defense, 36th in rushing defense, and 25th in scoring defense.
Although the Gophers have struggled at times to get after the passer and get penetration up front, this defense has been able to generate some splash plays, as they’ve been able to force seven interceptions and recover eight fumbles for two defensive touchdowns.
Minnesota saw a solid defensive effort in the victory over Illinois on Saturday. LB Thomas Barber led the charge with his 7 defensive stops. pic.twitter.com/0DKve1XnXs— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 22, 2017
In regards to personnel, the Gophers still have plenty of talent and productive players defense coming in the form of sophomore pass rusher Carter Coughlin, star sophomore linebacker Thomas Barber, junior safety Jacob Huff — currently filling in for Antoine Winfield Jr. — and, despite the slow start to the season, defensive tackle Steven Richardson is still an immensely talented player who presents a serious presence on the interior for the Gophers defense.
In order for the Hawkeyes to have a successful day on offense, there will need to be more explosive plays down the field, as the one area the Gophers are susceptible to on defense is on the backend.
What To Expect
It’s no secret that the Hawkeyes have been reeling in recent weeks and aside from the Illinois game, the offense has really struggled to put up points. With that said, this week the Hawkeyes will have yet another opportunity to bounce back against a team that hasn’t looked great this season and when you consider how poor the quarterback play has been for the Gophers, and the fact that this game will be under the lights at Kinnick, I anticipate that the Hawkeyes will pull out a big home win against a rival this Saturday in bounce-back fashion.