• Travis Thornburgh

Game Recap: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Initial Takeaways:

- The future is bright for the Iowa offense, and two playmakers that will be key cogs for the future led the way for Iowa in the form of Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Tyler Goodson.

- Despite the yardage that they gave up, this may have been one of the best executed gameplans of the year for the Iowa defense. They kept the Gopher receivers in front of them and controlled the line of scrimmage all night. This was an example of the "bend don't break" philosophy used to perfection.

- The offense showed a commitment to being aggressive early and that aggressiveness carried them to victory.

- The run game was solid early and fueled the offense's ability to build a commanding lead. They got away from the running game early in the second half and it slowed the offense down.

- A.J. Epenesa finally got rewarded on the stat sheet for being disruptive all year. He is also beginning to benefit from the defensive line depth that has developed throughout the year.

- Kristian Welch was dearly missed by the Iowa defense and he made an instant impact in his return.

- This win over a Top 10 Minnesota team sets this Iowa team up to be considered a successful edition of Iowa Football putting them in position for a 10 win season.

Views From the Corner of Kinnick

Saturday marked another chapter in Iowa's nearly two decade domination of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Iowa City. Minnesota has not won in Iowa City since 1999 and this is the 5th consecutive season that Iowa will retain the Floyd of Rosedale. Iowa showed improvemnt on offense, Minnesota looked shell shocked in the first half, and Iowa's bend don't break defense forced the Golden Gophers to rely on its unreliable kicking game.

Iowa started fast for a change, winning the coin toss and electing to take the football to start the game. Nate Stanley and company took advantage, putting together an 8 play, 75 yard drive that included a 26 yard Tyler Goodson run on 3rd down and was capped by a Nico Rigaini touchdown grab. Minnesota seemed poised to cut the Iowa 6-0 lead in half on the ensuing drive, but the Golden Gophers 12 play drive sputtered at the Iowa 32, forcing a 50 yard attempt that sailed wide of the goal posts. The Hawks made Minnesota pay, constructing another long drive, this time a 9 play, 68 yard drive, resulting in a Tyler Goodson 10 yard to put the Hawks up 13-0. The ensuing drive saw Minnesota getting on the board, mounting a 12 play, 89 yard drive that finished with a field goal from the Iowa 6. The Iowa offense continued to roll, as they marched down the field again on a drive that saw Tyrone Tracy supplying 60 yards on 4 touches (3 catches, 1 run) and was capped by Nate Stanley finding Ihmir Smith-Marsette for his second touchdown pass of the game. The teams would then exchange punts on the next two drives before Minnesota got the ball back with just under a minute left in the half and kicked a field goal that bounced in off the upright. The stroke of luck pushed the halftime score to a 20-6 Iowa advantage.

Minnesota came out swinging in the second half, taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field on 6 play, 66 yard drive that was capped by a 28 yard touchdown pass on a broken coverage for the Iowa defensive secondary. On the ensuing drive, Iowa picked up 21 yards on 8 plays, but were forced to call on Michael Sleep-Dalton to flip the field. Minnesota started their next drive at their own 10 and Iowa would need every bit of field position, as the Gophers went on a 12 play, 76 yard drive that ended on a failed 4th down conversion at the Iowa 25. The teams then exchanged punts before Iowa put together another scoring drive, this time a 10 play, 29 yard drive that set up Keith Duncan 27 yard field goal that pushed the score to 23-13. Minnesota answered, marching down on a 9 play, 75 yard drive ending in a touchdown with just under 3:30 left in the game. Minnesota's scoring on the drive was limited to 6 as their kicked missed the extra point wide left to keep the score 23-19. After a failed onside kick attempt, Iowa ran the ball three times and milked the clock down to 1:52 before a Michael Sleep-Dalton touchback set Minnesota up at its own 20 yard line. In its most impressive series of the game, the Iowa defense held strong by forcing 2 sacks of quarterback Tanner Morgan and intercepting a long pass to seal the game. Two Nate Stanley kneel downs later and the field storming was on and Floyd of Rosedale knew he was going to stay home for another year.

After the dust had settled, the no longer undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers left Iowa City empty-handed on a 23-19 decision.

Although it wasn't always pretty, this very well may have been Iowa's most complete game of the Big Ten season. The offense came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 20 points in the first half, and the defense brought the game home by doing just enough to keep a potent Minnesota offense mostly in check, allowing just 19 points to a team that was averaging 39.5 points per game in Big Ten play.

Saturday's game was a nice change of pace for an Iowa offense that has drawn the ire of the fanbase throughout the year. There was an obvious emphasis on being aggressive early, and it really put Minnesota on its heels. This aggressiveness was illustrated by the 26 yard third down run Tyler Goodson had on the game's opening drive. Iowa was lined up in the I-formation on 3rd and 2. Everyone in the stadium expected either a Nate Stanley sneak or a handoff up the middle. Instead, Iowa faked the handoff to fullback Brady Ross, tossed the ball out wide left to Tyler Goodson and there weren't any Gopher defenders within 15 yards. Beyond the yardage it accounted for, it set the tone that the Iowa offense was going to take control of the game and take the fight to Minnesota.

Nate Stanley continued his solid senior campaign, adding 173 yards to his season total as well as pulling within 8 passing touchdowns of the all-time Iowa mark. Beyond his prowess through the air, Nate showed some athleticism in accumulating 26 yards on 5 carries, which adds another dimension to a constantly evolving Iowa offense. Nate continued to show that he is in complete command of the Iowa offense, and when put in a position to succeed, he can lead a pretty impressive Iowa attack as he did in the first half.

Tyler Goodson seems to have seized control of the starting spot at running back with his performance against the Gophers. He was the catalyst early on for Iowa, and as was mentioned before, really helped to set the tone with his early 3rd down run. He also displayed his full skill set on his first half touchdown, quickly getting around the edge to put the pressure on the defense, breaking three arm tackles, then squaring his shoulders and plowing his way into the endzone through two Gopher defenders. All told, Goodson accounted for 93 yards on the ground and consistently picked up free blitzers to protect Nate Stanley.

Iowa's receiving corps continues to be impressive, particularly Tyrone Tracy, in the absence of Brandon Smith. Tracy continued to be Nate Stanley's top target in Smith's absence, accumulating 77 yards on 6 receptions and adding 11 yards on a 3rd quarter rush attempt. On Iowa's third touchdown drive, Tracy accounted for 60 of the 69 yards that Iowa produced and was a main cog in Iowa's explosive first half. The longer this season goes, the more secure Iowa's future in the passing game seems to be. In addition to the receivers producing, two different Iowa tight ends caught passes, both of which were big conversions for first downs.

Ultimately, this game was a huge step forward for the Iowa offense, and should make Iowa fans feel better about the offense moving forward. The next step of growth for the offense is to put four quarters together. They looked much improved in the first half, but seemed to revert back to a less aggressive style in the second half. That play style is less about the players, and more about the scenarios that they are put in. The next logical step is to put four quarters together and completely bury an opponent, which they may have an opportunity to do in the next two weeks.

Saturday marked another chapter in this Iowa defense being impressive, just not in the same way they have been most of the year. For the most part this season, Iowa has limited big plays and made teams move down the field in 4 to 5 yard chunks, then bowed as teams neared the redzone. Minnesota was able to gouge the Iowa defense for big plays on almost every drive, but Iowa refused to break on a majority of those drives. This may have been the most impressive defensive performance of the year based on what Minnesota had done up to this point in the season.

Among the standout performances of the week, Kristian Welch and A.J. Epenesa rose to the top on the biggest stage. Welch returned from an injury that had kept him out for multiple games and didn't miss a beat, recording 11 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Epenesa compiled one of his better stat lines of the year, racking up 4 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Epenesa has been disruptive all year and it feels like he finally got rewarded for that this week.

One of the most impressive things about the defensive performance of the week was the way that the defensive backfield held up against a very good Minnesota receiving corps. It was very clear that the plan was to keep the Gopher receivers in front, and with the exception of the 28 yard touchdown pass, they did just that. The defensive secondary showed great tackling ability in the open field, and both Geno Stone and Jack Koerner continued to excel in pass coverage. The one blemish on the secondary was the dropped interception by Jack Koerner, but it didn't end up hurting the Hawks as the defense rebounded to turn the Gophers over on downs later in that drive.

For what seems like the first time in Big Ten play, special teams didn't have massive impact on the outcome of this game. Keith Duncan continued to build on what is becoming a very convincing campaign for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation's top kicker each year. Duncan connected on his 23rd make of the season, which now leads all kickers nationally. Michael Sleep-Dalton continued to be a reliable leg to flip the field when needed and has been a consistent factor in Iowa's field position battle.

In a lot of ways, this was exactly what should have been expected of this game. Minnesota came in a little bit flat off of the emotional victory and Iowa took advantage in the first half. Minnesota made the halftime adjustments and found much more success scoring in the second half, but by then, the Iowa offense had done just enough to give the defense room to breathe. Iowa flipped the script of this season, converting their own long drives into touchdowns, while holding their opponents to field goals on long drives of their own. The run game was improved in the first half and Nate Stanley continued to a steady leader for an offense that has depended on him. The defense kept the Minnesota playmakers in front and held up just enough against a potent Gopher offense.

The Hawks welcome the upstart Illinois Fighting Illini, who are bowl eligible for the first time since 2014, to Kinnick Stadium for an 11 A.M. kickoff next Saturday in what is likely to be an exciting sendoff for 19 seniors.

Travis's Player of the Game: Tyler Goodson - 13 carries, 94 Rushing Yards, 1 Touchdown, Long Run of 26 yards

Up Next: The Illinois Fighting Illini 6-4 (4-3 in the Big Ten) will visit Kinnick Stadium for an 11:00 A.M. kickoff on BTN

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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!

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About Travis

A lifelong Hawkeye fan and a 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa in Civil Engineering, Travis now calls Des Moines, Iowa home and continues to passionately follow University of Iowa athletics

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