Game Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Iowa will look to rebound from a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers when they welcome the 8th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers to Kinnick on Saturday for a 3 P.M. kickoff. Iowa enters the contest at 6-3 on the year with a 3-3 record in Big Ten play. Minnesota currently holds a 9-0 record with a perfect 6-0 record in the Big Ten after they defeated Penn State in Minneapolis a week ago by the score of 31-26. Minnesota currently leads the all-time series at 62-48-2, but has not beaten Iowa since the 2014 and Iowa hasn't lost in Iowa City since 1999. Iowa is currently listed as a 3-point favorite.
Iowa's Offense Against The Gopher Defense
As has been the story all season, the performance of the Iowa offense is likely to be the determining factor in this game. Iowa comes into the game off their most successful quarter of the Big Ten season will look to build on that after scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter on the Wisconsin defense.
Minnesota ranks in the Top 30 of Division 1 football in most defensive categories. The Gophers hold down the 26th spot in scoring defense allowing just 21 points per game, 14th in total yards allowed per game, and are 19th in forcing turnovers at just under 2 takeaways per game. However, Minnesota had played one of the weakest schedules in all of college football going into the Penn State game a week ago and allowed nearly 520 total yards to the Nittany Lions at home.
The silver lining for a struggling Iowa offense is the way that Minnesota had to beat Penn State. It took three Nittany Lion interceptions thrown inside Minnesota territory to stop Penn State and Nate Stanley is unlikely to make those same mistakes. Iowa is due for a breakout game, and there seems to be a perfect storm brewing for this to be that game. Essentially eliminated from contention in the West, the Hawkeyes will be playing pressure free, while Minnesota is trying to keep the dream alive. I look for this to be an 2017 Ohio State situation, where a sluggish Iowa offense clicks for one game, and shows the full potential of what they could have been all year.
Iowa's Defense Against The Gopher Offense
In a rare turn of events, this may be the most questionable matchup for Iowa in this game. The Minnesota offense has seen a revival this year on the back of quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Rodney Smith and Iowa may struggle to matchup at times with the Gophers' spread offense. Minnesota is averaging nearly 38 points per game and more than 430 total yards on the season.
Dane Belton should get a lot of run in this one at the cash position, as matching a linebacker up on Minnesota's wide receivers isn't a recipe for succes. Minnesota will utilized a lot of run-pass option and read option type plays, so eye and lane discipline will be key for an Iowa defense that has been the workhorse for this Iowa team. They have limited explosive plays all year, and I look for them to do that again on Saturday.
Minnesota will likely put together a couple of solid drives and will put up points on the Iowa defense, but Iowa is better suited for this matchup than they have been in previous years. Iowa likely allows Minnesota to rack up yards, but the Golden Gophers shouldn't sniff their season average in scoring.
Another big game, another chance for the Iowa special teams to continue to step up. Keith Duncan will be called on in this one and Iowa fans should feel good about trotting him out on the field. Michael Sleep-Dalton has proven week in and week out that he can help flip the field and Iowa is going to need that again if they want to hold the Gophers out of the endzone. The punt returners need to be sharp and prevent the Iowa offense from getting pinned back as much as possible.
This Minnesota teams reminds me a lot of the C.J. Beathard led 2015 Iowa team that entered the Minnesota gameat 9-0. The real difference from that Iowa team and this Minnesota team, is the tail end of Minnesota's schedule will not be kind to the Gophers. It is tough for teams to rebound from emotional highs like beating a Top 5 opponent then turn around and travel to a tough road rivalry game with a trophy on the line.
The Iowa offense makes a point to exorcise some of its demons getting off to a fast start and showing some tempo early. Iowa will depend on Nate Stanley to throw the ball to open up the run game, and the run game will get going as the game wears on. ost consistent part of the Iowa offense this year.
Ultimately, the moment gets the better of Minnesota and the Hawkeyes feed on it. The Gophers are bringing a true sophomore quarterback to a hostile Kinnick Stadiium that is sure to be rocking by 3:00 P.M. Add to that the Blackout game, alternative uniforms and helmet decals, a November game that is going to end in the dark, and flyover during pregame, and that sounds like a perfect storm for Minnesota's perfect season to come to an end.
Iowa is 4-1 in five November home games against Top-10 opponents since 2008 and the last time Iowa was a home favorite against a Top 10 team they beat #5 Michigan State by a score of 37-6 in 2010.
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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