If fan excitement directly correlated to the outcome of games, we'd be looking at another 55-0 type of game. Every game now is Iowa's biggest game in years... with this game really taking the cake as Iowa plays in primetime for the pig.
A lot has been made about the defense setting an edge and not getting beat on the outside. It was a big problem all of last year, but especially against Minnesota. This year, though, it hasn’t really been a problem. The Gophers do try to get to the outside some and have used the K.J. Maye sweep that killed Iowa last year a few times this year. But I don’t expect this to be a problem at all for the Hawks tomorrow.
I think Iowa can do some damage of their own attacking the edge on offense. The Gophers will likely play with a safety in the box on most standard downs. Michigan had some success running pin-and-pull outside zones (a new Iowa staple) against this look a couple of weeks ago. As Mike pointed out as well, the tight ends are a unit to watch in this game. While the could be a big part of the pass game, especially off of play-action, I think too they’ll be a big part of Iowa’s rushing attack providing that blocking on the edge.
Make Leidner Beat You
Mitch Leidner beat Iowa last year. He had his best game of his career and finished 10/13 for 138 yards and 4 TDs. He hasn’t thrown more than 2 TDs in any other game. But he has been putting up a lot more yards lately. Minnesota has been super banged up on the offensive line and a little bit at running back. So they’ve started slinging the ball around. In the Gopher’s last three games, Leidner has thrown for 301, 317, and 281 yards. But those have all been in losing efforts.
Leidner has not been good at finishing drives. He’s thrown 7 picks this year against 10 TDs (Desmond King is probably licking his chops). Against Michigan in the red zone he threw several incomplete passes, took a sack, and couldn’t get the Gophers into the end zone on 4 trips inside the 20-yard line.
Iowa’s secondary and linebackers do need watch out for play action, though. That’s where Leidner does his damage. They use a variety of looks for play action. They’ll run similar PA passes to what Iowa does from under center, they’ll fake a jet sweep, they do some zone-read/pop pass-type of plays.
So, focus on the run and make Leidner throw. Minnesota has won once this year when rushing for less than 180 yards (the 10-7 clunker against Kent State). They were held to under 100 yards against Northwestern, Nebraska and Ohio State. Iowa’s defense might be able to do something like that tomorrow.
A Little Something Extra
Remember when Iowa ran a flea-flicker against Minnesota in 2012 already up 10-0? Or when they kept throwing deep even with a huge lead in 2008? I want that. It’s time for that again this year. Iowa started the season all "New Kirk," but in B1G play they've looked more like the "best of Kirk." The team runs the ball well, plays good defense, then kind of shuts it down in the second half unless it absolutely has to go down and score. There have been handful of times where it made sense to go for it on 4th down. But we haven’t seen another fake of any kind or any trick plays. I’ve called for a trick play a few times now and have been wrong. Maybe this will be the week.
If it isn’t a trick play, Iowa still needs to keep the foot on the pedal. Against Maryland, Iowa clearly let up in the second half. Last week, they stayed a little bit more aggressive (although they also needed to, given the danger posed by the Indiana offense), and put together 2 TD drives in the 4th quarter. A defensive or special teams score could be the something extra as well.
Feel the Hype
Tomorrow is going to be crazy. The Grapple on the Gridiron event in the morning could hit 40,000 fans in attendance. And that will just be a small warm up for the main event under the lights after a full afternoon getting ready. The alternate uniforms will be unveiled. It’ll be a blackout at night. The first sellout of the season. It is going to be loud. It is going to be awesome.
Plus, there's the little matter of being the number 5 team in the country with a chance to go 10-0 for the first time in history. There have been some distractions. There has been extra media (Sport Illustrated was in town this week) and Kirk Ferentz has been out there defending his program on the radio. He’s also shown that all the national talk has at least gotten back to him to some degree, talking a subtle shot a Colin Cowherd in his presser. I imagine the team is in the same boat as Ferentz. They know what’s going on and what’s being said.
So how is the team going to handle all of this? I imagine they’ll come out super ready to go, especially with the way last year’s game went. But if Minnesota punches back, how will Iowa respond?
Everything this team has shown thus far points to them handling it very well. Iowa has overcome everything thrown at them. They’ve won despite injuries, they’ve won when the offense couldn’t do anything, they’ve won in close games when they needed a late score. And they’ll win even if Minnesota can knock the wind out of all the excitement somehow.
Riding adrenaline and an aggressive game plan for the start of the game, Iowa gets an early lead. After absorbing those early blows, I think Leidner makes a few plays and keeps the Gophers in the game into the second half. But then the Iowa defense will adjust and Beathard will take over.
Final Score: Iowa 31 - Minnesota 17
BONUS! Make your own prediction for the game, courtesy of the fine folks at The Crowd's Line: