Iowa Football Notebook: Kristian Welch’s Return Boosts Defense
Iowa City, Iowa – “I sure like looking at him,” said Kirk Ferentz of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
Hawkeye fans concur, and they can thank senior linebacker Kristian Welch for his role in extending Floyd’s stay in Iowa City. Welch lead the defense with 11 tackles, including a laser-beam sack that flattened Minnsota quarterback Tanner Morgan in the first half.
The senior had been out for over a month, last suiting up for Iowa’s loss to Penn State. After missing last week’s matchup against his home-state team of Wisconsin, Welch said he was just happy to get back out on the field.
“The whole experience has been frustrating,” said Welch. “I just tried to stay mentailly into it… It obviously felt really good being out there with my guys again.”
Welch’s teammates credit him as a leader of the defense, and after relying on redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle and true freshman Jack Campbell to fill in, he provided the pressure that both shut down Minnesota’s run game (the Gophers were held to just 63 rushing yards) and lead Iowa to six sacks on the night.
“I think the other guys were playing well,” said Ferentz. “Kirstian is a veteran guy guy who has been playing his best football. That’s what you hope with a guy that’s a senior, to get him back, we’re just really happy about that.”
Welch was one of the first Hawkeyes to reach the hallowed bronze pig after the game. Given his tribulations this season, it’s fair to assume that the smile on his face as he carried Floyd to the locker room for the final time was just as large as Kirk’s.
Speaking of which, did the dean of college football coaches get a selfie with the statue?
“No,” said Ferentz. “That would be kind of weird.”
The Hawkeyes were not especially prolific on either side of the ball this week, but they were something that Minnesota was not: balanced.
Offensively, Iowa picked up a clean 117 rushing yards and 173 yards through the air. Those aren’t world beater numbers, but they speak to Iowa’s offensive competence, something that has been in question at times this year.
Freshman Tyler Goodson made his first collegiate start this Saturday, and he averaged 7.2 yards per carry on his path to 94 rushing yards. Goodson was especially impressive on a first half touchdown, as he shed two tacklers on an outside run, then pushed through two more to cross the goal line.
He also picked up multiple +20 yard gains, including a pitch play that no Gopher saw coming. It spoke to the Iowa offense’s ability to keep the defense guessing, something it often fails at.
The offense wasn’t afraid to go through the air, as Tyrone Tracy picked up a career high six receptions for 77 yards. Tracy, Smith-Marsette, and Ragaini each averaged double digits on multiple receptions as Iowa moved to longer routes, often over the middle.
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Stanley threw to his receivers 12 times and handed the ball off to running backs 19 times. It was the type of balanced game that Iowa strives for, and that its improved interior line depth has made possible (Kyler Schott’s return last week against Wisconsin has helped the Hawkeyes immensely in this area).
Minnesota, on the other hand, played it’s most lopsided game to date. While the secondary legitimately struggled on Saturday, the Hawkeye defense achieved its goal of forcing the Gophers away from the run game.
Coming into the week, Minnesota had the second most statistically successful offense in the conference, and one of the most balanced offenses in the country. Even after tonight’s game, the Gophers average 182 rushing yards and 250 passing yards per game.
Tonight though, the Gophers were held to 63 yards on the ground and let fly 368 through the air.
While that passing number is never positive for a defense, it was partially the result of Morgan’s ability to connect on deep balls down field, something that the Hawkeyes knew would be a liability coming into the game due to the loss of star cornerback Michael Ojemudia.
Yes, the Gophers still carved up the secondary at times with 10 to 20 yard throws. But that was more or less the game plan for Iowa: force Minnesota to throw until incompletions gets them behind the chains.
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While the team from up north was effective in its dimension, it was still one dimensional. There’s no doubt that aided Iowa on its path to six sacks, as well the final defensive drive, when the Hawkeyes came up with the game winning stop on two sacks and an interception.
It may have been ugly, but Coach Parker’s defense found a way to hold Minnesota to a season low of 19 points. In general, Iowa’s balance can be credited with giving the Hawkeyes a four point victory over a team that outgained it by 141 total yards of offense.
There were a few developments on the injury front this week. One key moment that many missed during the game was that Brandon Smith came in for a snap this week. It was his first appearance since leaving the field against Purdue with an ankle injury.
After missing the Northwestern and Wisconsin games, it seems likely that Smith could be back in the rotation for the Hawkeyes as they close out the regular season against Illinois and Nebraska.
As mentioned previously, Michael Ojemudia missed Saturday’s game due to an unknown injury. Riley Moss, who missed time earlier in the year with an injury, came up with Iowa’s game-sealing interception. He had two against the Gophers last season.
Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said that “everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
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To some, Iowa’s win over undefeated and eighth ranked Minnesota on Saturday may feel like the breakthrough Hawk fans have been waiting for. The student section clearly thought so, as it lead Iowa’s first field storming since their infamous 31 point victory over Ohio State in 2017.
Others might diminish the win, discrediting the Gophers as overrated despite their victory last week over Penn State.
And still others, myself included, might characterize the game as the kind of fun win the program was sorely missing and an important victory in the battle to maintain Iowa’s status in the Big Ten West over the rising Gophers… if still a sad reminder of the places the 2019 squad could have gone, but now will not.
Should the field really have been rushed? Which team is still in the hunt for a division title, for the Rose Bowl? Which team has better captured the public consciousness, will finish higher in the conference standings, and has had more fun this fall?
Maybe we should ask whether the students at Kinnick Stadium cared a lick about those questions, or consider that maybe they just wanted to have some fun and make a lifelong memory.
What I’m getting at here, I suppose, is that Iowa’s win over Minnesota felt more like a consolation than program-changing accomplishment. And that while some fans may feel that field stormings should be reserved for such accomplishments, they might be better served letting the kids with pads and without them have some fun.
Iowa might not have had the year many were hoping for, but the season isn’t over. The players proved that they believe that by showing up ready to play on Saturday. A lesser team would have pouted after elimination from the division race, but not the 2019 Hawkeyes.
It will be appropriate to evaluate the season when it ends. For now, let’s see how much fun is left to be had.
Kirk Ferentz tied Joe Paterno on Saturday for fifth all-time in Big Ten Conference wins (95)
Iowa extended its win streak over Minnesota to five games
The Hawkeyes have won 10 of their last 12 meetings with the Gophers
AJ Epenesa had 2.5 of Iowa’s six sacks on Saturday. Six sacks was a season-high for the defense.
Tyler Goodson made his first career start against Minnesota. He is the fifth true freshman running back to start in the Ferentz era (Garmon, Canzeri, Coker, Wegher)
The Gophers had scored at least 31 points in eight straight games before their matchup with the Hawkeyes
November 16, 2019 marks the 130th anniversary of Iowa football