Gophers v. Iowa: Week 11 Preview

Nov. 10, 2021Following a shocking upset loss to Illinois, the Golden Gophers travel to Iowa City, IA for a pivotal week 11 clash in the race for Big Ten West supremacy.

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Nov. 13
  • TV channel: BTN
  • Time of kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play) & James Laurinaitis (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (+6) @ Iowa; over/under (37.5)

Opponent Information (Iowa):

  • 2020 record: 6-2
  • 2021 record: 7-2
    • 34-6 W v. Indiana
    • 27-17 W @ Iowa State
    • 30-7 W v. Kent State
    • 24-14 W v. Colorado State
    • 51-14 W @ Maryland
    • 23-20 W v. Penn State
    • 7-24 L v. Purdue
    • 7-27 L @ Wisconsin
    • 17-12 W @ Northwestern
  • Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (23rd season)
  • Returning starters: 13
  • Players to watch: Tyler Linderbaum (C), Tyler Goodson (RB), Sam LaPorta (TE), Jack Campbell (LB), Jack Koerner (S)

After beginning the 2021 season 6-0, finding itself ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, the Hawkeyes are reeling, dropping two of the last three games. Junior starting quarterback Spencer Petras (shoulder) is unlikely to suit up against the Gophers, opening the door for redshirt-sophomore Alex Padilla to make his first career start under center. Scoring only 31 points in the last three games, Minnesota will look to continue limiting Iowa, as P.J. Fleck looks for his first career win over the Hawkeyes, and the Gophers look to win back the Floyd of Rosedale for the first time since 2014.

Iowa season storylines:

  • “Dream Season” collapse:

Following Iowa’s 23-20 win over Penn State in Kinnick Stadium, Hawkeye faithful was “buzzing”. They shot up to No. 2 in the country and many were calling them a serious national title contender. Something just seemed off, after Penn State QB Sean Clifford exited the game with an injury in the first half, a game that looked to be a blowout victory for the Nittany Lions completely turned on its head and Iowa pulled it out.

Since their big win, the Hawkeyes have scored only 31 points in three games, dropping two of the last three. The national love was always a bit rich or overblown especially when Spencer Petras is still lining up behind center. Don’t get me wrong this is still a “same old” Iowa team, but they are likely to be in the 17-25 range for the rest of the season, not No. 2 where they once were.

  • Quarterback situation:

Iowa and Kirk Ferentz have never been known for their quarterback play, but this year has been especially rough. Their 185.3 passing yards per game, ranks 108th in the NCAA, but hey, that is still better than the Gophers. Petras has been uninspiring this season, completing 58.3% of his passes, for 1,430 yards, 9 TDs and 6 INTs in nine starts this season. After suffering a shoulder injury late in the Wisconsin game, he was able to start the following week against Northwestern but was pulled after three offensive drives.

Now unlikely to play against Minnesota, redshirt-sophomore Alex Padilla is expected to make his first career start. In relief work against the Wildcats, he played sufficiently completing 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards. Outside of that, the Greenwood Valley, Colo. native had only completed 5 of 16 pass attempts for 73 yards, mostly coming in garbage time. Padilla, a former three-star recruit will now have to face a Minnesota defense that hasn’t allowed more than 23 points since Sept. 11.

  • OC Brian Ferentz struggling:

During the Hawkeyes’ recent losing skid, a lot of the blame has fallen on offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz‘s shoulders. Their offense is currently in a very similar situation to the Gophers. They have a struggling veteran QB and uncreative playcalling from an OC that is easy to blame. As a whole, Iowa is averaging 22.4 PPG this season, which ranks 95th best in the country.

Its passing game has been struggling all season, but shockingly its running game has not found much success this season. 114.1 rushing yards per game ranks 110th best in the NCAA, something very uncharacteristic for an Iowa offense. Iowa’s defense has looked dominant all season, but its offensive questions have seriously limited its season-long ceiling — a story very similar to the Gophers.

  • Turnover luck:

Turnovers are a play in football, that can completely shift a game’s momentum, off of one bounce or tip. Iowa ranks second in the country this season with 23 turnovers gained. Interceptions and fumbles often are not sustainable for a team to rely on. Many times they can come off bounces and tips something that you can not count on every single game. I think there is a pattern this season, in games where the Hawkeyes have looked dominant they’ve won the turnover battle.

Early in the year with three turnovers against Indiana and four against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes looked great. But they let Kent State and Colorado State stick around the next two weeks, forcing only one turnover in each of those games. Seven turnovers against Maryland and four against Penn State led to great wins, but only 1 gained in both of their Wisconsin and Purdue games combined resulted in their first two losses of the season.

Overall, I believe this shows that this is no more than an average Iowa team, they have the talent and opportunity to win the Big Ten West, but they were never the No. 2 team in the country. It is unrealistic to rely on turnovers to set up short offensive drives and it has finally caught up to them.

Gophers’ path to victory:

There are three major keys to a Gophers victory Saturday against Iowa. Tanner Morgan must play well, which given the information we have, does not look easy, Minnesota must win the turnover battle and Philip John Fleck Jr. cannot coach emotionally. Iowa has obviously had Fleck and the Gophers’ number, but last season for example it seemed like Fleck coached emotionally. With the whole timeout battle at the end of the game, it seemed like Ferentz got in Fleck’s head a bit. I believe this game will be very close down to the wire and every possession, timeout and play will be very important. I believe whoever commits fewer mistakes will come out on top.

Overall, I would say that Minnesota matches up fairly well against the Hawkeyes. Both teams are quite similar, they both rely on the running offensive and a strong defense. I believe that Morgan will be put into passing situations again, given how last week looked. I believe that it will be important to get him some quick completions early and get his confidence back. Tanner has never succeeded at passing the ball deep and throwing intermediate routes has been where he found the most success.

The Gophers have to take advantage of Alex Padilla likely making his first career start. If they can force him into bad situations causing him to turn the ball over, that could be the edge that this team needs. Given a struggling QB and offense, a short field can be exactly what boosts their confidence. Iowa has built their program on limiting mistakes and playing smash-mouth football, so will certainly not be an easy task, but the Gophers cannot be scared and they aggressive, but calculated football. I expect this game to go down the wire and small situations like fourth-down conversions, turnovers and special teams could be what brings the Floyd of Rosedale back home.

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