Make Leidner Pass
Kirk Ferentz may have said you can’t just load up the box against Minnesota and focus on David Cobb…but you totally can and should. When Mitch Leidner is forced to throw the ball more than 25 times, Minnesota loses. He has struggled in both of Minnesota’s losses, completing less than 50% of his throws in both. The one thing to key on when forcing Leidner to throw, is watching out for the deep pass. With the heavy run game the Gophers use, they’ve been able to suck the defense up and then hit long passes. Even though Leidner was just 12 of 30 against Illinois, he had 240 yards with four passes of over 30 yards.
Iowa can put Minnesota in passing situations by getting an early lead. A start like the one last week would do just fine. It will also be important to limit Cobb on first downs. Don’t give the Gophers the option of running it on third downs… force some third and longs and get off the field. Leidner has been bad on 3rd and 8+; 5/20 for 45 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. He's just generally not very good on third downs, leading to the Gophers' very mediocre-to-poor 38% success rate on third downs.
Turnovers have been a key to Iowa’s success the past few games. Even against Maryland, an early turnover helped Iowa build a quick 14 point lead. Against Indiana it was a first quarter pick-six and against Northwestern it was a fumble near the end of the first half that put the game away.
On Minnesota’s side, turnovers have been a major factor in their two losses. Against TCU, Leidner threw 3 interceptions and the Gophers had 5 total turnovers. Two weeks ago against Illinois, it was a late fumble returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as part of the three turnover game that doomed the Gophers. In all of Minnesota’s winning efforts they’ve won (or tied) the turnover battle.
Build on Success in Run Game
There's no question that Iowa’s best effort in the run game came last week against what previously looked like a decent Northwestern defense. The offensive line looked good, Mark Weisman did his thing and keeps piling up touchdowns, and Akrum Wadley burst onto the scene. While Minnesota is only giving up a respectable 144 yards on the ground per game, they are giving up 4.14 yards per carry.
Last year, Iowa was able to pound the Gopher defense into a pulp, just going to Weisman over and over again, churning out long, clock-killing, 15-play drives. The Hawkeyes didn’t light up the scoreboard or put up huge stats, but the 23-7 victory was a dominating performance. If Iowa can duplicate that effort, then it’ll be a good day.
Jordan Canzeri might be back and, if so, it will be interesting to see how much he plays versus Wadley. Both kind of fill the change of pace role opposite Weisman, though Wadley seems to be an even different type of running back. Will there be room for all three? Jonathan Parker should also be back, so maybe the sweep will see a return.
Don't Let Cobb go Coleman/Conner/Johnson/THE ENTIRE MARYLAND OFFENSE
This is the most obvious one on the list. Iowa has seen its share of good running backs this year. James Conner is first in the nation in rushing yards, Tevin Coleman is thirrd, and next up is Cobb, who sits at eighth in rushing yards on that list. He is probably somewhere between Conner and Coleman in style. He doesn't quite have the same breakaway speed as Coleman or the strength of Conner, but is still a very good back. The Minnesota offense relies very, very heavily on his production, with him checking in at about 45% of the Gopher's total offensive yards. He also touches the ball on around 42% of their plays. The Iowa defense cannot afford the same mistakes that it's made in the past against talented running backs.
I don't see Iowa repeating the level of offensive success it had last week, but Weisman has been an absolute beast against Minnesota the past two years and I think that continues. He would have gone over 100 last week if it wasn't a blowout, but this week I think he finally does and the run game carries the offense to a decent day.
The defense will give a couple of long runs to Cobb and he'll hit his 100 yards on the ground. Like we saw last weekend, when Iowa can make a team one dimensional, the defense plays very well. With no passing game, Iowa defense should be able to limit the Gophers' success.
Final Score: Iowa 31 - Minnesota 20