IOWA CITY, Ia. – All week long, Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck talked
volumes about bringing Floyd of Rosedale back to the Twin Cities.
“It’s a really big game,” Fleck said. “It’s a really important game.”
Fleck was silenced, his team outcoached and outplayed, in a 35-7 loss to
the Hawkeyes at TCI Stadium Friday. The victory spoke volumes about
the direction this Iowa team appears to be headed.
“I like the way they’re growing as a football team right now,” Iowa
Coach Kirk Ferentz said after his team evened their record to 2-2
heading to Penn State next week.
Fleck-coached Minnesota teams are now 9-7 against five teams in the
Big Ten’s West Division, but 0-4 against Iowa. Floyd has resided in Iowa
City so long that he could vote as a resident, or qualify for in-state
The Hawkeyes have won 16 of the last 20 games in the series, which is
now tied at 42-42-2 since the bronze beauty became the traveling
trophy in 1935. Iowa is now 17-4 in their last 21 trophy games against
the Gophers, Iowa State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The next challenge is a Penn State team that is 0-4 after losing at
Nebraska Saturday, 30-23.
The Nittany Lions have flipped the series script with Iowa. Penn State
has won the last six meetings, including a walkoff touchdown at Kinnick
in 2017 (21-19), a 30-24 decision in Happy Valley in 2018 and a 17-12
decision back at Kinnick in 2019. Iowa had won eight of nine games in
the series before things changed in 2011.
An Iowa victory would be the 100th conference victory for Ferentz. He is
99-77 in league games. The Hawkeyes are also gunning for a third
consecutive victory. And many of my preseason assumptions have
proved to be incorrect.
I thought that offense would carry this team. A defense that finished
fifth nationally in scoring defense, 12 th in total defense, 14 th in rushing
defense and 19 in pass defense, had too many significant losses to play
at a consistently high level.
Gone were players like A.J. Epenesa, Michael Ojemudia, Geno Stone,
Cedrick Lattimore, Brady Reiff and Kristian Welch. There was also
linebacker Djmon Colbert, who opted out of 2020, and Dillon Doyle, who
I should have realized that Phil Parker’s masterful touch was still back.
Parker flies under the radar when it comes to acclaim, but he’s the most
valuable member of Ferentz’s staff.
Friday night, Minnesota finished with 312 yards of total offense but
didn’t score until the final 15 seconds of the game against backup
defenders. Iowa’s Riley Moss and Jack Koerner had interceptions for the
second straight game. In fact, the Hawkeyes have had at least one pick in
the last 11 games (18 interceptions overall).
The offense, with playmakers like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith
and Tyler Goodson, has been slow to find a rhythm.
Some of that, in retrospect, should have been expected. Quarterback
Spencer Petras had never started a game before this season started. The
absence of spring ball, and the traditional off-season development
program, not the mention a full-bore fall camp, have slowed his
Offense coordinator Brian Ferentz has also had good moments and bad
as he tries to find a consistent rhythm. Friday against Gophers was a
Ferentz was quick to establish the running game, something Minnesota
has struggled to stop all season.
Seven of the first nine plays from scrimmage went to Goodson – five
carries, two receptions. But Ferentz was successful in keeping
Minnesota guessing all game. A perfect example was Iowa’s first
touchdown of the game, a 1-yard Dino Ragaini run on a jet sweep that
fooled most of the Minnesota defenders. So did Goodson’s 7-yard
touchdown out of the Wildcat formation in the second quarter.
Iowa’s offensive line has developed into a strength of this team, led by
center Tyler Linderbaum. Watching him is a highlight reel every week.
And this is an offensive line that played without starters Coy Cronk and
Tyler Schott for a second straight week. Mark Kallenberger has played
his best football the past two weeks.
Goodson ran through the Gopher defense for a career-best 142 yards
and two touchdowns. Mekhi Sargent added 86 yards in just nine carries.
Iowa finished with 235 yards in 35 carries, and is now 47-5 since 2015
in games where it has rushed for at least 100 yards.
The improving running game could play a big role Saturday against a
Penn State team that fell in a 27-6 halftime deficit at Nebraska, then
came back after Coach James Franklin changed quarterbacks late in the
Sean Clifford was benched in favor of sophomore Will Levis, who was
effective with his arm and his feet. Levis completed 14 of 31 passes for
219 yards and ran for 61 yards in 18 carries.
The Nittany Lions had it first and goal at the Nebraska 9 with 2:34
remaining down a touchdown. But Levis threw two incompletions, was
sacked and threw another incompletion.
After Friday’s game, Fleck said the loss was “100 percent on me.”
He’s never had the lead on Iowa in four games so far. The last time
Minnesota has held the lead in this series came in the fourth quarter in
That covers 245 minutes and 28 seconds of game time. A lot of
swimming upstream without a paddle.