Iowa Football Preview, Prediction: Unbeaten Minnesota Rows into Kinnick
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One of the top stories of this college football season comes to Kinnick Stadium Saturday. The eyes of the sport will be watching if unbeaten and eighth-ranked Minnesota can carry on rowing the boat.
It faces a hurdle is hasn’t cleared in decades – winning at Iowa. It will be trying to do so for the first time since 1999, a span of eight games.
The latest test comes a week after the Golden Gophers (9-0 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) upset then No. 4 Penn State, 31-26, in Minneapolis. They answered critics that questioned their schedule.
That victory will lose some meaning if it falls again in Iowa City. It also could impact its march to a Big Ten West title.
Coach P.J. Fleck has adopted an approach with his team that every game is for a championship. And when they’ve won, they’ve moved on to the next title game.
“We have been so consistent in how we have handled all of that. We celebrate on Saturday. Sunday morning we stand up, we high five each other, we pat each other on the back, we turn to our right, thumbs up, we turn to our left, thumbs up. We do all these different things and then we put our leather vests on and we make sure we go back to work. And we literally simulate that,” he said.
“What does the leather vest mean? It means, hey, now you got to be, you got to be ready for some criticism. You got to be ready for going in the film room to be critiqued.”
Time will tell if that routine works following a very emotional victory. It should help that it’s a rivalry game and that oddsmakers have installed the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3) as the favorite this week.
The Gophers have embraced the us-against-the-world mentality.
“They really love each other, they really sacrifice for each other and when you got everybody rowing the boat in the same direction, same speed, same efficiency, all believing in one vision, it’s a powerful force no matter what that is, not even just football, in any sport,” Fleck said.
“I think that’s what this team does. They constantly change their best every single day, they constantly compete with their self, not necessarily against someone else but with their self to be a better individual today than they were yesterday, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually.”
Minnesota has gained momentum as the season has advanced. It slipped by South Dakota State of the FCS by a touchdown in the season-opener, won in overtime at Fresno State and moved to 3-0 by pulling out a three-point home triumph against Georgia Southern. Those victories failed to gain much attention.
They built confidence, however. It opened the Big Ten season with a win at Purdue before knocking off Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland by a combined score of 168-41. Outsiders still weren’t buying the Gophers and expected their comeuppance against Penn State.
Minnesota showed their offense was for real against a salty Nittany Lion defense. Its 24 first-half points were more than Penn State had allowed in any entire game this season.
Outside of No. 2 Ohio State, Minnesota can make a case for having the most explosive offense in the Big Ten. Quarterback Tanner Morgan leads the conference in passing efficiency (191.0) with 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air and four interceptions.
Receivers Tyler Johnson (50-730-8) and Rashod Bateman (38-847-7) make up the league’s top tandem on the outside. Bateman averages a whopping 22.3 yards per catch after putting up 203 on Penn State.
Rodney Smith leads a three-man running back rotation with rushing 940 yards, which trails only Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s JK Dobbins in the Big Ten. He’s aided by Mohamed Ibrahim (340), who rushed for more than 1,000 last season. Shannon Brooks (319) leads the trio with 5.8 yards per carry.
“They’re a big, physical football team, especially on the offensive front. They have a huge offensive line. They’ve got good receivers” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“They had good receivers a year ago. All those guys were fairly young at that point and they’re still a very dangerous group, big-play guys, throw the ball down the field well and all that, and they’ve got three running backs that really do a good job running the football, and then the quarterback has really played well for them this year. I think his statistics speak to that.”
Minnesota gives opposing defenses a number of different looks. It runs RPO, which will require eye discipline and assignment football from the Hawkeyes.
On defense, the Gophers are improving and opportunistic. They boast a Big Ten best 14 interceptions. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley sees a more aggressive unit that blitzes from various spots.
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“The biggest impression defensively, they’re really comfortable with their system. They’ve got a system that’s tested and true. They believe in it, and they play it extremely well. Play very hard on defense, and they’re very fundamentally sound,” Ferentz said.
TV ANNOUNCERS: Joe Davis, Brock Huard and Bruce Feldman on FOX.
SERIES: Saturday will be the 113th meeting between Iowa and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes have won four straight, and 14 of the last 18. Saturday is the first meeting since 2003 that both team enter the game ranked: #20 Iowa defeated #19 Minnesota, 40-22, in Iowa City on Nov. 15, 2003.
Minnesota holds a 62-48-2 advantage in a series that began with a 42-4 Gopher victory in 1891. The Golden Gophers won the first 12 games in the series before Iowa earned a 6-0 win in 1918. The Hawkeyes are 30-23-1 against Minnesota in games played in Iowa City.
BETTING LINES: Iowa opened as an 2-point favorite at VegasInsiders.com. It bumped up to 3.0 as of Tuesday morning at the Elite Sportsbook in Riverside. The total was at 44.5.
-Minnesota is 7-0 Against The Spread in its last 7 conference games.
-Over is 6-2 in Golden Gophers last 8 games overall.
-Iowa is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games following a straight up loss.
-Under is 6-1-1 in Hawkeyes last 8 games overall.
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MINNESOTA PLAYERS TO WATCH
–Tyler Johnson, WR – The homegrown product from Minneapolis North High has caught a pass in 32 consecutive games. He boasts a school-record 13 100-yard games and is the only Gopher with three games in which he’s caught three touchdowns. He’s 283 yards short of 3,000 in his career.
–Rashod Bateman, WR – The sophomore from Georgia has hauled in 38 passes for 847 yards and seven touchdowns in ’19. He’s caught a pass in all 22 games in which he’s appeared. Bateman recorded seven grabs for 203 yards in last week’s upset of Penn State.
–Antoine Winfield Jr., S – The Big Ten named the sophomore from Texas the conference defensive player of the week after he posted a team-high 11 tackles (9 solo) and two interceptions in the win against Penn State. With seven picks on the season, he’s tied with Jeff Wright (’70) for the most ever in a campaign by a Gopher.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Minnesota: The Gophers benefit from playing clean football as evidence by its 37 penalties this season, the fourth fewest in FBS. They’ll need that same concentration in a tough road venue.
Iowa: Iowa’s offense needs to help the cause by scoring touchdowns against a team with both explosive players and the ability to chew up clock. Field goals aren’t going to cut it this week.
-Minnesota has won 11 straight games (last loss was on Nov. 17, 2018 to No. 24 Northwestern), which is tied with Baylor for the third longest winning streak in the nation. Clemson (25) and Ohio State (15) are the only schools with longer winning streaks.
-Minnesota is 6-0 in the Big Ten (has trailed for only 10:35 in B1G play this year) for the first time since 1961 and has won six Big Ten games for the sixth time ever (2019, 1973, 1967, 1961, 1960, 1940). Minnesota has never won seven Big Ten games.
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-Minnesota has scored 31 points or more in its last eight games. Those are games two through nine this year, as the Gophers scored 28 to open the season against South Dakota State.
-Minnesota has thrown for 21 touchdowns this year after tossing 20 touchdowns last season. This is the first time since 2006 (22) and 2007 (25) that Minnesota had consecutive seasons with 20 passing touchdowns.
-Minnesota has outscored its Big Ten opponents 237-98. The Gophers have the No. 2 scoring offense (39.5) and are tied with Michigan for the No. 4 scoring defense (16.3) in the league.
-Iowa kicker Keith Duncan is tied for first in the country with 22 field goals made. Duncan kicked three field goals at Wisconsin to set Iowa’s single-season school record. His 86.1 field goal percentage is the best ever among Iowa kickers with at least 30 field goal attempts.
-Iowa’s scoring defense (11.7 ppg) is the lowest total of the Ferentz era (next best is 13.0 in 2008), and the lowest by any Hawkeye team since 1959 (11.1). Iowa’s total defense is the lowest by any Hawkeye team since 2009 (276.5).
-Iowa has allowed 12 touchdowns in nine games, third fewest in the country (Ohio State 8, Georgia 10). Iowa has four shutouts in its last 12 Big Ten Conference games (Rutgers and Northwestern in 2019, Maryland and Illinois in 2018). No other Big Ten team has more than one shutout since the start of 2018.
-Iowa’s three losses are to #10 Penn State (8-1), #19 Michigan (7-2), and #16 Wisconsin (7-2), who have a combined record of 22-5. All three losses were one possession games.
-The Hawkeyes are playing their third trophy game of the season: Cy-Hawk Trophy, W, 18-17 at Iowa State; Heartland, L, 24-22, at Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes are 14-4 in their last 18 rivalry trophy games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin), with all four losses coming to Wisconsin.
Minnesota – Ron Perlman
Iowa – Minnette Gersh Lenier
HOWE I SEE IT: The Golden Gophers answered their critics with a 31-26 victory against Penn State, which was No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They can say they’ve played and beaten a quality opponent.
Now the test for Minnesota is knocking off a formidable opponent in a tough road environment. It will be trying to end an eight-game losing streak at Kinnick Stadium, the last victory there coming in ’99.
There would appear to be considerable pressure on the Gophers with a lot of attention coming their way this week. And there’s a lot on the line for the first time in a long time.
Conversely, Iowa’s chances of winning the Big Ten went out the window for all intents and purposes with last week’s loss at Wisconsin. That reduced the stakes for them in this matchup to playing spoiler.
I think that helps the Hawkeyes and serves as an advantage in this contest. Oddsmakers feel the same way, making a three-loss team a favorite against an unbeaten.
PREDICTION: IOWA 27, Minnesota 24
HawkeyeNation.com’s Rob Howe has covered Iowa Hawkeye sports for 23 years and began working at HawkeyeNation.com in 2003. Please follow @RobHoweHN and @HawkeyeNationHQ on Twitter.