For the first fifteen-ish minutes of the Iowa Hawkeyes’ 13-10 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, it looked like the Iowa was going to pull off one of its trademarked surprise comfortable wins. At the end of the first quarter the offense was moving the ball and the defense was holding Mo Ibrahim in check. The Hawkeyes had a 125 to 31 total yard advantage and, more importantly, a 10-0 lead on the scoreboard. At that point everything was going swell and Floyd was already looking to pack up his things and hop on the plane back to Iowa City.
Unfortunately, games don’t end after the first quarter. The next 42 ½ minutes felt like an agonizingly slow asphyxiation of Iowa’s chances to win the game. Iowa’s defense suddenly had no answer for Ibrahim and a punishing Gopher ground game. All the rhythm Iowa had in the first quarter vanished. It didn’t help that Sam LaPorta, Iowa’s most potent weapon on its first two scoring drives, suffered an injury and wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game, leaving the Hawks down one impact player and Spencer Petras down one favorite target.
Minnesota’s offensive line started opening huge lanes for Ibrahim and he took full advantage. Despite knowing that the Gophers would run, the defense couldn’t stop #24 in maroon and gold. Ibrahim finished the day with 263 yards with a long of 54. It was generally assumed that being able to focus on the run would force freshman QB Athan Kaliakmanis to throw, and the Iowa defense could feast on his mistakes. But with Ibrahim averaging 6.75 yards per carry they never needed the so-called “Greek Rifle” to save them.
Minute by minute ticked away and we were all just waiting for the final blow. With the score tied 10-10 and Minnesota running roughshod on Iowa’s defense we could only watch helplessly as everyone’s favorite coach, PJ Fleck, prepared to finally claim Floyd for the first time in his career.
Things looked pretty grim there for a while.
Now, you may not know this but regulation time for an American college football game is 60 minutes, not 57 ½. With 2:20 left in the game, a clutch Riley Moss pass deflection fell into the waiting arms of Jack Campbell who returned the ball
for a touchdown to the Minnesota 45 yard line.
In a year of massive defensive plays for Iowa, Jack Campbell came up with the biggest one in the biggest moment. pic.twitter.com/gSAJUEp9ic— Mitch Fick (@MCFick) November 20, 2022
Jack showed incredible awareness and great balance to stay in bounds — I will go to my grave saying he was in bounds — and put the Hawkeyes back in position to win. A beautiful pass to Luke Lachey set Iowa up inside the Minnesota red zone with under a minute and a half to play. Despite not being able to punch the ball in for the touchdown, Iowa was able to kick the game winning field goal and the defense turned the Gophers over on downs.
It was surprising to see Iowa’s run defense struggle so much with Ibrahim and the Gopher rushing attack. I mentioned before that even though everyone and their dog knew Minnesota was going to run the ball the defense still couldn’t stop it. Some of that comes down to the Hawkeyes loading up the box too much to counter it, and the Gopher offensive line doing a good job taking advantage of that numbers game. But give a lot of credit to Mo Ibrahim himself, who showed tremendous patience, poise, and power to wait for the line to make the hole, attack it when it appeared, and make it incredibly hard for defenders to bring him down. His fumble late in the game was really his only major mistake. Ibrahim was only part of the Gophers’ 312 total rushing yards, but it felt like he was responsible for every yard they gained. I’ll be happy not to face him again next year.
The win moves Iowa to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play. More importantly, however, the West division is now squarely in their hands, with Illinois falling to Michigan earlier in the day. For a while there it looked like Bret Bielema would manage to once again find a way to thumb his nose at his alma mater, as the Fighting Illini gave the Wolverines all they could handle and more. But like the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines were able to win on a late field goal and preserve their own division title hopes.
We now face the very real possibility that Iowa could make a return trip to Indianapolis at the end of the regular season. After being trounced by Ohio State earlier this year there was plenty of accusations and gnashing of teeth to go around, plenty coming from myself. But darn it if this team doesn’t show a tremendous amount of grit, determination, and toughness to come back from a showing like that and rattle off four straight wins, two against conference rivals and the other two against perennial thorns in their side. There are gripes to be had, mistakes to fix, and serious questions this staff must answer in the very near future. But this team is playing with house money, Floyd is coming home, and as stressful as games like yesterday’s was I’m going to try to savor the ride.
And PJ Fleck still hasn’t beaten Iowa. That’s nice too.