Despite their best efforts for two-thirds of the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes find themselves entering the weekend tied for first place in the Big Ten West and simply needing to win the next two weeks to return to Indianapolis (technically they also need Illinois to fall to Michigan, which seems likely given the Wolverines are favored by more than 18 points). But this week’s opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, also have their dreams of a West title alive and after seven straight wins for the Hawkeyes, the Gophers will certainly be ready to play on Saturday.
According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Gophs are actually in a better spot than the Hawkeyes for that West title. That’s because DK has Minnesota favored by 2.5 points as of Friday morning. This one opened Minnesota -3 but has come down just a bit. Notably, the over/under has also moved down from 32.5 at open to a flat 32 total points.
Here at The Pants, we’ve been Iowa fans long enough to never be too optimistic. That’s why more than half our staff is on Minnesota to win this one. On average, we’re predicting a final score of 14-13 in favor of the Gophers. Technically speaking, that would mean we’re betting on the Hawks to cover that 2.5-point spread. More definitively, we’re well under the 32 total points. In fact, just one of us has this game hitting the over.
Here’s a look at our individual predictions for Saturday’s matchup.
This game feels a lot different than I expected it to. The Hawkeyes come in on a roll despite my expectation that the offense would costs them each of the last two games. The Gophers come in with injury concerns, but playing for perhaps more than they’ve played for all year and with a clearly defined identity on offense.
Everything comes down to who is successful running the ball in my view. Mo Ibrahim has topped 100 yards rushing each of the last 18 games and has been well past that mark in each of Minnesota’s wins this year. I suspect the Iowa defense goes all out to slow him down, but we’ve seen that approach earlier this year with Chase Brown and Blake Corum and as good as this defense is they weren’t entirely successful.
I suspect the Gophers find success on the ground and even if they don’t, they simply continue pounding it 40-50 times. Iowa, on the other hand, will throw it a few more times and I still just don’t trust Spencer Petras to not make more mistakes than whichever QB Minnesota trots out there.
Prediction: Minnesota 16, Iowa 13
Minnesota will go all-out here - Fleck doesn’t have a win over Iowa and they haven’t had Floyd since 2014. They have to keep pictures of Floyd up in their lockers just so they know what it looks like, so they know it’s an actual thing.
But they don’t have the best unit on the field. I have to keep telling myself this when it comes to Iowa. They have the best unit on the field nearly every single week. Iowa has the best unit on the field Saturday and they’ll end the day 60 minutes away from Indianapolis again.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Minnesota 10
Iowa’s offense has shown nothing this season to instill confidence in its ability to perform at even an average level against a strong Gopher defense. Iowa has played four top ten defenses this season (Iowa State, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State) and has yet to score more than 14 points against any of them. Minnesota will be playing at home, competing to stay alive in the Big Ten West race, and looking to spoil the season of a hated rival who they have not beaten since 2014. Expect no quarter from the Gopher defense.
Yet all is not lost for the Hawkeyes. If Iowa manages to stop Minnesota from running the football effectively, the Gophers will be hard-pressed to find the end zone against an elite Hawkeye defense (unless of course Iowa’s offense decides to repeatedly give them starting field position in the red zone). Minnesota’s offense is even more one-dimensional with Athan Kaliakmanis at quarterback than it is with Tanner Morgan, and Phil Parker is more effective than nearly any defensive coordinator in the country at forcing opposing offenses to repeatedly and perfectly execute things they are bad at in order to move the ball. Iowa’s offense may struggle on Saturday, but expect the defense to shine yet again as the Hawkeyes claim Floyd for the eight straight year.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Minnesota 10
Let’s talk about some data.
On defense, we all expect Iowa’s defense to lock Minnesota down. According to BMath, Iowa has the nation’s (opponent-adjusted, mind you) #4 scoring defense, #6 total defense, and #3 efficiency defense. Minnesota fields the #63 scoring offense, #98 total offense, and #93 efficiency offense. After Ohio State and Michigan, the best offenses Iowa’s defense has faced are Purdue (#30 PPG, #17 YPG, #33 YPP) and Wisconsin (#31 PPG, #51 YPG, #29 YPP). Minnesota is nowhere near as good as Purdue or Wisconsin and held those two opponents to a total of 13 points, 7 of which came on one blown defensive play. So, if Minnesota scores more than 10 here, it’ll be due to mistakes by the offense or perhaps special teams gaffes, a la Ohio State.
So it boils down to Iowa’s offense. How does that look? Iowa’s offense is, opponent-adjusted, better than you think. The Hawkeyes’ offense is #68 in PPG at 26.10 (this is inflated a bit by some defensive scores), #101 in YPG at 309.90, and #86 in YPP at 4.89. To be clear, this is still putrid, but when you take into account the defenses Iowa has faced, the socks don’t smell quite as bad. But let’s look at the Minnesota defense. Opponent-adjusted, the Gophers are #20 in PPG at 16.28, #4 in YPG at 230.35 (ahead of Iowa!), and #13 in efficiency defense at 4.2 4YPP. That’s good for the #12 overall defense in the country. The most similar defense Iowa has faced, in terms of statistical profile, is Michigan, whose overall OA-adjusted defensive places the Wolverines at about #13 in overall defense.
Meshing the adjusted numbers heads-up, my algorithm has Iowa favored by two points at Minnesota, projecting an average final score of 15.48 to 13.49, for an average margin of victory of 1.99 points. Basically, Iowa 16, Minnesota 14.
The problem is that Iowa’s wins are based on situational opportunism. The defense has put points on the board, killed opposing drives with turnovers to give the offense short fields, and the special teams unit has been excellent, of course. Can they just take care of the ball and show some patience?
My theme this year is reversing trends. I picked Iowa State to end the skid, and I picked the Hawks to beat Purdue and Wisconsin in victories that wind up being hollow and meaningless because I’ve got the Hawks ending the season on a rancid 2-game skid. I’m going against the machine here and sticking with that call. The Gophers shouldn’t throw more than 12 passes in this game. If they take my advice, this game boils down to which offense makes fewer mistakes and which defense capitalizes most. Minnesota has Mo and we don’t. Give the Gophers the Pig.
Prediction: Minnesota 10, Iowa 3
Well, well, well, who would’ve thought we’d find ourselves in this position. After hitting rock bottom earlier in the year, your Iowa Hawkeyes are two wins (and an Illinois loss) away from a second West division title in as many years. And all that stands in their way are two division rivals who haven’t beaten the Hawkeyes since 2014. Doesn’t it feel like the most “Iowa” of ways to finish the season like this?
Unfortunately, such feelings don’t win games and if the Hawks don’t bring their best on Saturday that feel good story could crash down around the as quickly as it was built up. Minnesota’s had a run of bad luck in the injury department, losing both 58th-year starting QB Tanner Morgan and wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, but they still have a stout defense and a beast of a running back in Mo Ibrahim. With temperatures in the Twin Cities aiming for the high teens, I wouldn’t expect PJ Fleck to ask backup QB Athan Kaliakmanis to do much through the air against Iowa’s defense and instead repeatedly challenge Iowa’s front seven with a healthy dose of Ibrahim. It’s up to Iowa’s defense to take force mistakes and the Iowa offense and special teams to win the field position battle to grind out a win.
This one has all the hallmarks of a tough-it-out, white knuckle slog for four quarters with the more physical team who makes fewer mistakes coming out on top. For the last two weeks I predicted Iowa losses and have been pleasantly surprised by Hawkeye wins. I’ll continue my prediction trend this week in the hopes that the game result trend continues.
Prediction: Minnesota 14, Iowa 13
My mom has a saying that all good things must come to an end. The Hawks have been playing better football as of late, and Floyd has grown accustomed to the warmer climes of Iowa. I am afraid that Floyd will be packing his bag (I just realized that Floyd probably doesn’t care for the saying, “throw the ol’ pigskin around”) and temporarily residing in the Twin Cities. I still don’t trust Iowa’s offense; I won’t until there is a change at the coordinator position. It’s gonna be cold at Kinnick North. I will be in attendance with my son, brother, and nephew. If that’s not a kiss of death nothing is. Probably because I live up here, I pretty much detest everything Gopher. That said, I love Mo Ibrahim as a football player. Dude just flat out balls out. I think he will have a big day, but there will not be a lot of points on the board.
Prediction: Minnesota 17, Iowa 13
I’m going to be hosting a Hawkeye tailgate at the Notre Dame vs Boston College game Saturday with bacon galore! Iowa’s won this game 7 years in a row, so why wouldn’t they make it 8!?
The key to this game is much like last week. The defensive front must win this battle. I believe that challenge against the Gophers will be even tougher than it was against Wisky. Mo Ibrahim is going to get his, he always does. But can Iowa make it so that those yards gained aren’t providing enough efficiently to Minnesota’s offense? That’s the key. If Fleck can continuously run the ball, that will limit the amount of times freshman quarterback Kaliakmanis has to make a mistake. If he’s forced into throwing, Minnesota is in trouble, as he would much rather attempt to scramble than actually push the ball down field.
On offense, just generate 13 points yourself. Look for Iowa to take advantage of either Laporta or Lachey down the seam as Minnesota has struggled to defend that this year.
If the offense can get those 13 themselves, I’m sure another opportunity will come from the defense or special teams.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Minnesota 17
I have nothing to add here except that, similar to the ISU game, my gut tells me that we are way overdue for a loss to the Gophers. In true Kirk Ferentz fashion, we’ve reached bowl eligibility, so watch them not care about winning. The defense deserves the CFP but the offense deserves Detroit.
Prediction: Minnesota 14, Iowa 6
So there you have it, we’re calling for a slog in the freezing cold so it probably makes the most sense that we see a shootout here.
What about you, Hawkeye fans? How do you see Saturday’s contest shaking out?