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Matchup to Watch: Iowa’s Corners vs. Minnesota’s Wide Receivers

The Golden Gophers have the weapons outside to burn Iowa

NCAA Football: Penn State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In watching, truly watch, the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the first time all season, I was totally impressed by their skill outside. For others on staff, it wasn’t a surprise, mainly because they have eyes and used them to watch the Rodents play football since the last time they faced Iowa almost 4 days ago.

If there was one play which stuck out from their win over the weekend, it was the one below:

Wideout Tyler Johnson puts on display pretty much every skill you’d want to see from a modern wide receiver - solid route running to give him and his QB, Tanner Morgan, plenty of room to connect, ability to come down with it one handed, strength to shirk off the defensive back, and nifty footwork to stay inbounds on the way to the end zone.

Michael Ojemudia has been very strong in coverage all season, but a weak jam and slow recover drew him the ire of Phil Parker after allowing the Wisconsin Badgers to flip the field:

That type of play will likely draw a similar frustration from Parker and get him similarly nailed to the bench if it happens against Minny.

Minnesota will also do a good job of scheming their guys open. Morgan took advantage of a broken coverage against Penn State to get Rashod Bateman the ball and let him do the rest.

It was reminiscent of the two busted coverages Iowa had in the second game of the season against the Cyclones. While it feels cleaned up for the most part, P.J. Fleck and co are very willing to attack the sidelines and his receivers are comfortable making the most of those throws.

Behind Johnson & Bateman is the speediest guy of the bunch, Chris Autman-Bell. He completed the trifecta against PSU by taking a tunnel screen to the house from about 20 yards out. All three have 5 or more receiving touchdowns, which is more than any single Hawkeye receiver. Further underscoring Johnson’s ability is the quiet accumulate of TD’s he’s had in Minneapolis. His 28 TDs over his four-year career are 11th in the conference since 1956 and coincidentally tied with Marvin McNutt.

Further complicating the matter is Fleck’s preferred game management is right in line with what Hawkeye fans know from Kirk Ferentz. On Saturday’s broadcast, they mentioned how willing the Golden Gophers were to shorten the game by running the play clock down to zero with regularity when having the lead. And why wouldn’t they with two backs averaging well over 5 yards/carry and a third pacing himself at 4.7?

The way the Goofers blend their run and pass game allows them to get the best of both worlds and may force the Hawkeyes to choose defending the run with 5 defensive backs.

Saturday poses its own set of emotional hurdles for Kirk Ferentz and company but the skill contingent is perhaps the best Iowa’s faced so far this season. Preventing big plays will be a huge priority for the Hawks but Minnesota is going to test their ability with Morgan completing passes at a 68% clip for nearly 11 yards a pass. He’s also averaging a touchdown every 9.2 passes as the #1 rated passer in the conference.

If Iowa isn’t ready outside, it could be a long day for the Hawks, especially considering they haven’t lost at home to Minnesota since 1999.