After leaving Madison with The Bull, your Iowa Hawkeyes are 6-1 on the year, solidly in control of the B1G West Division, and favored (at least for the time being) to win all 5 of the remaining games on their schedule. I have to admit, this is not where I expected this team to be going into the Floyd of Rosedale game, but I’m also fairly sure I didn’t expect Minnesota to be sitting at 3-3 and in a 3-way tie for 3rd in the West (that’s a lot of 3’s). We all expected the West to be down in its final year, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be circling the CFB drain.
Yes, I fully expected last week’s game to be the de facto B1G West championship game, I just didn’t expect Iowa to win it, especially without Cade McNamara and Luke Lachey. Adding Erick All to that list after just two catches felt like watching the season crumble right before my eyes, and yet, this team managed to shut down the Badger’s rushing attack and keep the Dairy Raid in check. The team from up North coming to Kinnick on Saturday should, on paper, be significantly less dangerous on the offensive side of the ball, but simultaneously, Iowa’s offense may be at its lowest point this season.
Whether Floyd spends his 9th straight year in Iowa City will not be the determinative factor for Iowa’s season, but a 3rd trophy game win would definitely help keep morale high in what is certainly turning into a pretty negative external environment for our boys in the Black and Gold (or Gold and Black as it were).
Now let’s get into the numbers.
Iowa - 247.4 ypg, 20.9 ppg
Minnesota - 313.3 ypg, 21.7 ppg
On paper, the Minnesota offense is significantly better than Iowa’s, which isn’t all that surprising. We’ve seen PJ come into this game year after year with solid QBs, elite RBs, solid TEs, and some truly elite WRs, and yet he’s never been able to put together a complete game against a Kirk Ferentz led Iowa squad.
Athan Kaliakmanis’ averages aren’t going to wow anyone: 13/23, 133 ypg, 1 TD, 1 INT. But when you stack them up against Deacon Hill, they are downright miraculous. He’s not a mobile quarterback by any means, but he has picked up 2 TDs on the ground this year and his rushing yards aren’t in the red after being sacked 11 times on the season, so he’s certainly no statue. Given that Iowa could be down two of its best defensive lineman (Joe Evans and Yahyah Black are dinged up and questionable for the game), he could have a lot of time to make his reads on Saturday.
However, the Gopher’s RB situation is a little muddy at the moment. Their #1 RB Darius Taylor may be back, but his status is uncertain, and while backup Zach Evans has performed well in his place, he’s only amassed 27 carries across two games, and both he and Sean Tyler were bottled up pretty effectively by Michigan’s run defense.
I don’t think I need to spend much time on Iowa’s offense, it’s still very bad. However, the run blocking has improved significantly in each of the past two games, and Minnesota’s defense is significantly worse than Wisconsin’s, so if they can find a way to establish the run and make even a few baby steps forward in the passing game, it almost makes this a push.
Advantage - Minnesota (just barely)
Iowa - 4.3 ypp
Minnesota - 6.2 ypp
ESPN’s SP+ rankings currently have Iowa as the #1 defense in the country, Iowa is #6 in The Athletic’s Stop Rate Rankings, and are currently sitting in a 3-way tie at #4 in terms of total defense giving up just 4.3 ypp. Minnesota is 36 in SP+, 87th in stop rate, and 116th in total defense. Minnesota is giving up north of 370 ypg at 6.2 ypp. They have some quality players in their secondary, but as I can’t imagine that Brian will be dialing up a lot of deep balls (and I honestly hope he reels it back to nothing longer than about 7 yards), I don’t think that they will have too many passes to defend, let alone break up or intercept.
On the other hand, Minnesota does, and will, throw the ball and I’m pretty confident in a secondary unit that includes Cooper DeJean and Sebastian Castro, especially as this is Kaliakmanis’ first visit to Kinnick. The weather should be gorgeous and while it is unlikely that there will be a Kinnick at Night kind of atmosphere, the fans are always rowdy when Minnesota comes to town and it’s going to get awfully loud when the Gophers have the ball.
Advantage - Iowa
Iowa - 48.3 ypp
Minnesota - 43.3 ypp
I think it goes without saying that Tory Taylor is the best punter in the country right now. If anyone, anywhere, had any doubts about his skill his performance in Madison should have been more than enough to allay them. He’s an absolute weapon and his ability flip the field and pin opponents inside their own 20 without giving up touchbacks is approaching historic levels this year (1 tb in 46 kicks, 39% inside the 20). He’s on a Ray Guy winning trajectory and I’d guess that Minnesota’s punter doesn’t have many fans wearing t-shirts with his name on the back.
Advantage - Iowa
Iowa - 85.7% fgm, 7.14 ppg
Minnesota - 71.4% fgm, 7.33 ppg
I will grant that Dragan Kesich is a pretty sweet name, but I’ll take Drew Stevens any day of the week, especially in the friendly confines of Kinnick. After an uncharacteristically poor performance in West Lafayette, Drew rebounded nicely in Madison going 2-2 with both FGs longer than 40 yards. His touchback % took a bit of a hit against Wisconsin (where it was pretty windy) and the return units gave up some decent returns to Chimere Dike, but from where I’m sitting, Stevens has a pretty clear edge on Kesich.
Advantage - Iowa
Iowa - 68.8 ypg, 1 TD (PR)
Minnesota - 24.5 ypg, 0 TDs
Everyone in the country knows that Cooper DeJean is a dangerous man on punt returns, but they often overlook just how good Kaden Wetjen has been when he’s had the opportunity to field and return a kickoff. Though he’s only had 6 return opportunities this season, he’s averaging 26.8 yards and has been close to breaking one at least twice, including last week when he nearly broke through on a free kick following the safety induced by Black/Castro.
Minnesota will, likely, see a lot more punt return opportunities on Saturday than they have in any other game this season, but with Iowa’s return unit, I don’t think they’re going to see any significant increase in their 10 ypr average.
Advantage - Iowa
So, everything on paper points to an Iowa win, and I’ll admit, going through the numbers has me thinking that this SHOULD be an Iowa win. But if I’m being honest, I don’t feel like this is a game that Iowa will win. Maybe my inner optimist has just been ground down by the sheer brutality of Iowa’s dumpster fire offense, or perhaps my inner cynic has just been kicking him in the nuts for 7 straight weeks. Either way, this game has me worried. It took Matt Campbell 6 tries to beat Kirk Ferentz, and it took an ugly slop fest of a game in Kinnick to get him over that hill. This game is setting up to be just as ugly as last year’s loss to ISU, so maybe this is finally PJ’s year.
Numbers to Watch
6 - Former 4-star recruit, and Tanner Morgan apprentice, Athan Kaliakmanis has thrown 6 INTs through 6 games, and while the Doughboyz haven’t been picking off opposing QBs at their normal pace, they have grabbed 5 INTs in the last 3 games. If the DLine can continue to get pressure on Kaliakmanis the way they did against Card and Mordecai/Locke, we could see a couple more notches on the belt this week and hopefully one that puts points on the board.
8 - We’ve seen Cooper DeJean and the Iowa secondary shut down some pretty good receivers the last two weeks, and Minnesota brings another one to town by the name of Daniel Jackson. Jackson leads the Gophers with 5 TDs and is averaging 13 ypc. If the back 5 can keep him under wraps and force Minnesota to become one dimensional, it will go a long way toward a victory.
14 - Deacon Hill threw 14 passes last week, completing just six, and didn’t throw a single pass in the 4th quarter. While I am completely fine with Iowa running the ball down Minnesota’s throat, that gets exponentially harder when the Fighting Flecks can put 8-9 in the box and feel comfortable putting their DBs on an island. Hell, if I were Minnesota’s DC, I’d be putting my corners on an island all day until Iowa proves that they can move the ball through the air. In 2002 Brad Banks only needed 11 passes to beat Minnesota, so it’s not impossible for Iowa to win this game with a heavy imbalance toward the run, and this number needs to stay in the mid-teens, unless a miracle occurred at practice this week and Deac and the WR corps found the magic that has been missing all season.
86 - With Iowa’s top 3 TEs out, Steven Stilianos assumes the role of TE1 for the first time in his Iowa career. He’s only caught 5 passes this year but is averaging 10.8 ypc with a long of 21 yards. Deacon is going to need one of the TEs to step into the role with Lachey, All, and Addison Ostrenga on the bench. If Stilianos can fill those big shoes, we just may see something resembling a passing game on Saturday.
I’ll admit, it’s kind of weird that all of these numbers come back to 8 and 6 respectively, which could be the final score of this game. Vegas has Iowa as a 3.5 point favorite going in, with the O/U set at 30.5 at the time I’m writing this. If that O/U holds Iowa will officially hold all three of the lowest o/u’s for any college football games in the last 20 years. If I was a betting man, I’d definitely be taking the under on this one.
I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not having much fun watching this team play this year, but for 4 hours every Saturday my heart rate is averaging around 108bpm while sitting on my couch, so at least my heart thinks I’m taking a heart healthy walk once a week. If the Hawks can win the line of scrimmage and limit their mistakes, this should be a win, but the longer the Offense requires the Defense and S/Ts to be perfect to keep them in the game, the likelihood for mistakes increases, and they’ve been pretty close to perfect the last two weeks. Just like last week, I hope that I’m wrong about the outcome and Floyd has a short trip back to the Trophy Case where he belongs.
As always, GO HAWKS!