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Matchup to Watch: Iowa’s rushing attack vs. Minnesota’s linebackers

Will the Hawks continue to be varied in the run game to confuse the Golden Gophers

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NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll use this space to briefly recap last week’s matchup to watch before heading to the this weeks.

Week 1: Rondale Moore vs. the CASH
Week 2: Isaiah Bowser vs. Iowa’s LBs
Week 3: Iowa’s WRs vs MSU’s CBs

Iowa’s receivers had a grand total of 10 receptions for 105 yards between Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy, and Nico Ragaini. Charlie Jones added two rushes for 38 yards. Hey, when the Hawkeyes can rack up five TDs on offense without slinging it around, I am absolutely not one to complain. Especially when the lone receiving touchdown looks like this:

Iowa kept Michigan State’s CBs clean of the most notable stat: interceptions. They caught some breaks between Tracy’s tip drill and Smith’s fumble but on the whole, the Hawkeye wideouts did their job.


With both the Iowa Hawkeyes (1-2) and Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-2) trending up after blowout wins against Michigan State and Illinois, respectively, tomorrow’s game sets up as an opportunity for Kirk & Co to continue to assert their dominance (currently 3-0) against PJ “Everybody Poops” Fleck. The Rodent head man is making headway against the Hawks, with last year’s 23-19 loss where Iowa raced to a 20-point lead and white knuckled to the finish.

Fun times!

(Minnesota outgained Iowa 431-290 & had the time of possession advantage at 32:20-27:40)

The 2019 meeting was Tyler Goodson’s welcome party after showing flashes earlier in the season. He busted out for 13 carries and 94 yards, highlighted by this bruising — yes, bruising — touchdown run in the first quarter:

It’s worth noting the play came out of shotgun. Scott Dochterman of The Athletic has reiterated through three games just how important being varied in playcalling out of this alignment is. He’s tallied the Hawks for 171 yards on 22 carries so far this season, good for 7.8 per.

Iowa’s rushing attack goes beyond Goodson, of course, and in thinking about how Iowa can provide balance to their offense I’m struck by something Mike Leach has said regarding it:

There’s nothing balanced about 50% run-50% pass, ’cause that’s 50% stupid. What is balance is when you have five skill positions and all five of them are contributing to the effort in somewhat equal fashion — that’s balance.

While Iowa will never implement the air raid effectively under Kirk Ferentz, I find this 20%-20%-20%-20%-20% idea of balance compelling when attributing it to Iowa’s run game. This is also something Iowa has amped up with some inconsistency throughout Brian Ferentz’s tenure as offensive coordinator: consistent motion.

Dochterman has also tallied those numbers for four motion carries yielding 56 yards and seven running back carries for 91 yards with a man breaking across the formation. While it does not approach that 20% splits, it does give the allusion that Iowa is getting more skill players involved. Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Charlie Jones each have a couple of carries this season while Nico Ragaini has been used as a decoy a number of times, especially around the goal line. Tyrone Tracy also has found success as a runner in the black and gold.

(I expect Ragaini to get an end around for a touchdown at the goal line sometime this season)

While I do not expect to see Iowa use this motion on every play like they’re an Arena Football League team, incorporating it consistently and with multiple guys, can be a building block for the future of the offense. In fact, it is probably the easiest way to provide touches to Iowa’s wide receivers as the weather continues to get colder and passing becomes less reliable.

Motion also does not necessarily tip whether a play might be a run or a pass, as Iowa did here:

The reason all of this is important is because it forces defenders in a position where they do not immediately know who or where the ball is going. For Minnesota, in particular, they struggle at defending the run, giving up a truly amazing 7.3 yards/carry through three games.

As a result, two defensive backs (Tyler Nubin & Jordan Howden) lead the Goofs in tackles with 21 & 19 because linebackers are consistently unable to stop the play before it gets there. Mariano Sori-Marin is the most experienced LB for Minnesota and has 12 tackles so far through this season, which just isn’t much. Sori-Marin and fellow linebacker Thomas Rush has just 1 tackle for loss between the two.

After a stunning win against Michigan State where Iowa moved Spartans where they did not want to go, it’s important for Iowa to build on that performance using many of the ways they’ve found success this season. The biggest determining factor is being varied in how and who is getting the ball when rushing and being effective in deceiving where it might go.

They have the horses and Minnesota has, so far, proven to give little resistance in the run game. Iowa should be able to assert themselves on the ground and will need to translate it into touchdowns.

But if Iowa continues to tease creativity on offense only to pull it back in lackluster losses, it would demonstrate a confusing stubbornness which poses more questions than it answers.