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Iowa Football: Five Questions on the Minnesota Gophers

Who will be bringing home the bacon in the annual battle for Floyd of Rosedale?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota
Can Tanner Morgan attack this Iowa defense?
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes and Minnesota Golden Gophers are set to face off on Saturday in a big time showdown with Big Ten West implications. Beyond battling for Floyd of Rosedale, these two teams are battling for contention in the Big Ten West. A loss from either team on Saturday would likely end any hope of a backdoor entry into the Big Ten Championship Game.

Last year’s showdown ended with some testiness and as much snark as Kirk Ferentz could muster, but it has been a full year since we’ve seen the Gophers. While they are sure to remind the world how much they hate Iowa at every opportunity, most Iowa fans likely haven’t thought about Minnesota since that meeting last year. So we enlisted the help of our, uh, friends to the north at The Daily Gopher.

Here’s a look at our discussion on this week’s matchup.

BHGP: Once upon a time, there was a certain bloodthirsty deity whose name shall never be spoken that roamed the fields of Iowa. It seems that deity has found a new home to the north. What is the status of the Minnesota backfield entering this week’s matchup and what should Iowa fans expect from the Gopher rushing attack?

TDG: Well the good thing is that this has turned out to be a very deep group. So when the reigning Big Ten RB of the year goes down after putting up 163 yards on Ohio State in 3 quarters, then Trey Potts comes in to essentially lead the Big Ten in rushing for the 4 weeks where he was the lead back and now they are down to a couple of highly rated freshmen who are sharing the load. Not to mention that Bryce Williams is also injured and Cam Wiley decided to enter the transfer portal when carries seemed to elude him. So down to 2 scholarship running backs and your third is a walk-on linebacker who was a prolific RB in Wisconsin high school lore. As long as Ky Thomas and Bucky Irving remain healthy, the running game is still in good hands. Partly because this is such an experienced and talented offensive line, but partly because this position group has been recruited well in the last few years.

This year has been a little different than in the past. In prior seasons Minnesota was an inside-zone running team. This year, when things are working well, they have shown a good mix of inside-zone, outside-zone and power. So even when teams know we are going to run, cause this team runs A LOT, they’ve often been able to keep defenses on their heels. Sometimes not so much, but I think we’ll get to that in a moment.

BHGP: In the passing game, Tanner Morgan seems to be having a bit of an up and down season with stats that are surprisingly similar to Iowa’s Spencer Petras (60% completion percentage, 1357 yards, 6 TDs and 7 INTs). What has the Minnesota passing attack looked like through ten weeks of the season and how do you expect PJ Fleck to approach throwing against an Iowa defense that has feasted on turnovers this season?

TDG: It has been inconsistent but I believe that is largely on the offensive coordinator and the routes being run that seem to consistently put the quarterback in positions to not succeed. This past week’s loss to Illinois is a great example of running a lot of deep routes, slow-developing routes that never seemed to develop. Instead of taking things underneath the game-plan was to take shots, even when it was clear that things were not open and the OL wasn’t protecting. This decision to not make adjustments has killed the offense, especially the passing game, at times. When things are working right the run game is setting up the passing game and the passing game is taking advantage of what the defense is giving them (see Nebraska, Colorado, Purdue box scores). The problem is that going off-script when it is needed does not happen (see Bowling Green, Illinois and Miami-OH box scores).

What will happen on Saturday? I tend to have this prediction that the Gopher staff is going to do what Brian Ferentz did to them in 2019. They are going to come out looking very uncharacteristic, running sets they haven’t run all year and flipping from running 70% of the time to throwing the ball. As far as turnovers go, most of the Morgan picks have come when pressing late, if he’s able to play within an overall offensive rhythm, he doesn’t have many turnovers.

BHGP: On the other side of the ball, the Minnesota defense has been solid, allowing just under 19 points and fewer than 300 yards per game. What sort of defensive scheme should Hawkeye fans expect on Saturday and are there any areas of concern Brian Ferentz could potentially look to exploit?

TDG: There really are not a lot of areas to exploit on this defense. They replaced a lot of key guys and high performing players from 2019 to 2020. Last fall saw this unit really struggle early and start to come together. This year has been baby-steps of continuing to just get better. The defensive line is actually very good and the strength of the defense. The linebackers and secondary are all fine. Nobody really is going to stand out and win any post-season awards, it just took them collectively about a season+ to figure out that if they just all do their jobs and rely on their teammates to do theirs, then they play well together. Boye Mafe is a very good defensive end who will make big plays. They have a couple DTs who are making a huge difference in the run defense. Coney Durr is a very good cover corner. Jack Gibbens is a D2 grad transfer who has been outstanding. And again, the rest are all just solid. They struggled in the first quarter against Illinois, but then settled down and the Illini couldn’t really produce much the rest of the game (the offense is the unit that failed to adjust).

I’m very curious to see what Ferentz comes out with on Saturday afternoon and then how Joe Rossi adjusts.

BHGP: This is Iowa and punting is still winning so we’ve gotta talk special teams. Who are the key names to know in the kicking/return game and if this one gets weird, can the Gophers hang in a punt-fest?

TDG: Special Teams has been ugly for Gopher Football for a couple years now. Matthew Trickett has been not great in the kicking game, Mark Crawford is 11th in the Big Ten in punting average and return game isn’t anything special. If Special Teams is a factor in this game’s outcome, Iowa likely wins.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. The DraftKings Sportsbook has this one as Iowa -5.5 with and over/under set at 40.5. How do you see this one playing out and who will be bringing home the bacon?

TDG: This year’s Gopher team at times has looked rather good and at time has been incredibly frustrating. They have tended to bounce back after games where they’ve struggled. And they have weirdly played much better on the road than at home. This is no hot take here but both teams have a good defense while having issues on offense. I think the Gopher offense has a better chance of putting points on the board.

Factoring in the bad blood that clearly exists between these two coaching staffs, this game has become incredibly intriguing. Both staffs want this one more than just because it is an important notch in the W column. So I expect both sides to do some things that are unexpected. It should be a really fun game, even if the final is 6-3. I think the Gophers come away with their first win in Iowa City since Glen Mason. But I am an optimistic fan with clear bias. #RTB

So there you have it - another close one may be on the docket. Here’s hoping Tom at The Daily Gopher is incorrect and Iowa keeps Floyd in Iowa City for a seventh year in a row.

Thanks again to Tom and TDG. Be sure to check out their work this week. They’ve got an interesting look at PJ Fleck’s lack of success against rivals (hey, that’s us!) as well as a full preview on the Hawkeyes. You can also follow them on Twitter @TheDailyGopher.