Gophers football vs. Iowa: Keys to game, how to watch and who has the edge
Fleck in search of 1st victory over the Hawkeyes
Iowa at Minnesota
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Huntington Bank Stadium
Weather: 19 degrees, cloudy, 12 mph wind out of east
Betting favorite: Minnesota, minus-2.5
Records: Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) and Hawkeyes (6-4, 4-3) have each won three straight and sit in a four-way tie for the Big Ten West division lead.
History: P.J. Fleck is 0-5 against the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz has won seven straight against Minnesota and Iowa has captured 17 of the last 21. The Gophers' last win was a 51-14 blowout in Minneapolis in 2014.
Key matchup: Turnover margin. The over/under is set at 32.5, so points are expected to be hard to come by. With the Hawkeyes’ poor offense, Minnesota can’t suffer giveaways. The Hawkeyes are tied for second in the nation with four defensive touchdowns (two off fumbles, two from interceptions) in 10 games.
Who has the edge?
Gophers offense vs. Iowa defense: The Hawkeyes defense is No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed per play (3.8). “It’s the best defense I’ve seen in a few years,” Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said. “They don’t have a weakness.” All-America candidate Jack Campbell is tied for the Big Ten lead with 99 tackles. Given Iowa’s defensive class, Minnesota will need to complement a heavy dose of rushing from Mo Ibrahim with hitting on successful plays in the passing game. The Gophers starting quarterback (Athan Kaliakmanis or Tanner Morgan) is unknown. Morgan missed last week’s 31-3 win over Northwestern with an upper-body injury; Kaliakmanis missed on at least four throws and only completed 53% of his passes for 64 yards last weekend. The Gophers have run the ball an average of 52 snaps in their seven wins and 32 times in their three losses. … Lukas Van Ness leads Iowa with 40 pressures; he and Joe Evans are two edge players with six sacks apiece. Minnesota's offensive line is 13th in the nation, allowing only one sack per game. … Ibrahim leads the nation with 18 rushing touchdowns. … CB Cooper DeJean has four INTs, two returned for TDs. EDGE: Iowa
Gophers defense vs. Iowa offense: The Hawkeyes offense ranks 128th in yards per play (4.1), including a season-low 146 yards in a 24-10 win over Wisconsin. Iowa’s pass-blocking grade is the worst in the Big Ten, per Pro Football Focus. Minnesota had a season-high in pressures and sacks against the second-worst outfit, Nebraska, showing this is an area ripe for the Gophers to exploit. Starting RG Beau Stephens is expected out with an injury vs. Wisconsin. Edge rusher Jah Joyner might have had his best game yet against Northwestern with five pressures. He also drew two holding penalties on the Big Ten’s best offensive tackle, Peter Skoronski. … But Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has seen improvement out of Iowa in recent weeks, primarily up front. Freshman RB Kaleb Johnson had big games vs. Purdue and Northwestern (at least 7.2 yards per carry) but was bottled by Wisconsin (2.6). Rossi, who is in the running for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant, held up TE Sam Laporta as a primary threat. He is Iowa’s all-time leader in tight end receptions, and this year, he leads the team with 49 catches for 506 yards. QB Spencer Petras has five TDs and five INTs in 10 games and was sacked six times by the Badgers. Minnesota’s defense has 12 interceptions; both teams are plus-5 in turnover margin. EDGE: Gophers
Special teams: With few points expected, this facet could play a big role. Both kickers, Matthew Trickett and Drew Stevens, have been consistent, making at least 86% of field goals. Australian punter Tory Taylor averages five more yards per boot than fellow countryman Mark Crawford. PR DeJean had a big 41-yard return vs. Wisconsin. Iowa has blocked three kicks/punts; Minnesota has zero. EDGE: Iowa
Prediction: With a razor-thin margin forecast, Fleck will be just aggressive enough and his offense able to convert a big conversion or two on third or fourth down. And the Gophers will be capable enough in the passing game to break their long losing skids in this rivalry game. Gophers, 17-15
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