IOWA CITY – Back at Big Ten Media Days in July, PJ Fleck was asked by a reporter what is the most difficult environment in which he competed as a player or coach.
The Minnesota head coach’s response in six words?
“The University of Iowa at night.”
While Saturday’s Iowa-Minnesota game began at 2:40 pm, the second half was played under dark skies, “Blackout” crowd conditions and the typical Kinnick Stadium night feeling. It turned out to be Fleck’s worst Iowa-Minnesota nightmare as his team outscored the Hawkeyes for much of the game. However, Iowa raised Floyd from Rosedale for the seventh consecutive year.
Finding an explanation for Iowa’s 27-22 win against the Gophers may begin with some Kinnick magic. The game seemed to pile up against the Hawkeyes as Minnesota overtook the 200-yard speed mark in the third quarter against the normally stingy Iowa defense.
Then when Keagan Johnson stepped out of a dead in-water wide-receiver screen, kept his footing and ran 27 yards for an exciting touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it felt like that would somehow end up being Iowa’s night. .
Johnson’s catch on a wide receiver screen should have lost 3 or 4 yards. One could argue that he would be better off letting the ball fall incomplete. He was grabbed by two Gopher defenders when the ball arrived, but he broke out of the hold of 250-pound defensive lineman Thomas Rush and 200-pound defensive back Coney Durr and turned up the left flank. It was somewhat reminiscent of a big catch-and-run against Penn State in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s win on Oct. 9; other than that time, Johnson scored to give Iowa a 24-16 lead with 12 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
“When I caught the ball, I saw two people in my face. I thought in my head, ‘Stay up,'” Johnson said. “I did stay up and I saw green grass, and I just ran as fast as I could.”
Of course, Iowa (8-2 overall, 5-2 in the Big Ten) never makes things easier for its fans. A 68-yard touchdown reception from Chris Autman-Bell with 5:28 to play cut the lead to 24-22. A failed two-point conversion on a Tanner Morgan expansion pass proved to be one of the game’s biggest games. That sparked thoughts of the Hawkeyes ’failed two-point conversion at Wisconsin in 2019 in a game they lost, 24-22.
This was to be equally anguishing for the Gophers, who held the ball for 40 minutes, 19 seconds to Iowa’s 19:41.
After the Hawkeyes punted to Minnesota and got a stop at the Gophers 3, head coach Kirk Ferentz chose to run three safe games and settle for Caleb Shudak’s 29-yard field goal pushed the lead to five with 41 seconds left. Minnesota’s last-gasp attempts came short, punctuated by Morgan’s dismissal of Joe Evans to end the game.
After Saturday, the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten West Division hopes are alive. Iowa will likely have to win and get help from this Minnesota team (6-4, 4-3) in the regular season finale against Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2) to go to Indianapolis. The Badgers and Hawkeyes are in first-place tie with two games to go, but Wisconsin owns the head-to-head tie due to the Oct. 30 win at Madison.
For the game, Minnesota ran 83 games and gained 409 yards. Iowa was minus-1 in turnovers and ran 49 games and scored 277 yards. Go count.
Ferentz defended Iowa’s decision to burn a clock with a 24-22 lead.
After Iowa took over at Minnesota’s 3-yard line after a fourth-down stop with 2:18 left, the Hawkeyes decided their best strategy would be to try not to win. At least not right away.
Minnesota had one break remaining. Iowa’s first play had quarterback Alex Padilla essentially tunnel into the ground for no gain. The clock kept working. After milking every second and an Iowa break, Padilla pushed for 1 yard to the Minnesota 2. The Gophers called their break with 1:30 left.
On a third down, a run left to Tyler Goodson was blown up and lost 4 yards. In that play, Ferentz pointed out, Iowa was actually trying to win. After that, Iowa took a delayed penalty kick that brought the clock to 44 seconds. At that point, rather than go for a touchdown, Iowa allowed Shudak to kick the field goal.
That left Minnesota with 41 seconds and a five-point deficit. The Gophers reached Iowa’s 39 with 12 seconds left. But Evans’ dismissal ended it.
In Ferentz’s mind, trying to win and climb nine was riskier because it would leave Minnesota more than 2 minutes on the clock. And he doesn’t like side kicks, maybe of course after 23 years of scar tissue.
“There are two ways to go. You’re just trying to score now what I think (Minnesota) would be happy about, ”said Ferentz. “The other thing, we wanted to burn a clock. It’s five points or it’s whatever it would be. I felt that our defense would be in order with the time they return. “
My 2 cents: Iowa thought it too much and became too pretty. Run the ball with the intention of winning, relying on your offense to enter the end zone of the 3-yard line for a nine-point lead (31-22, with the PAT). If you don’t, you’ve still burned the same amount of watch if not more.
A two-point lead with 2 minutes in the hands of the Iowa defense is better than a one-point lead with 41 seconds left.
Ferentz was only happy to talk about the second guess after victory.
More:# 14 Iowa 27, Minnesota 22: Hawkeyes edge Golden Gophers to keep Rosedale’s Floyd
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was aggressive with Alex Padilla.
The Hawkeyes attempted two deep shots to Johnson in the first half. Both failed, with the first attempt slightly dropped and the second well covered on a Johnson double move.
The next two deep shots worked beautifully.
Charlie Jones, take 1: Jones had Iowa’s top spot of the first half with a diving 34-yard catch on a third-and-2 call from Minnesota’s 39. From a heavy staff package with Jones as the only receiver, the fifth-year senior arranged to do. a diving catch not allowing the football to touch the territory, giving Iowa a first-and-goal at the Gophers 5.
Two games later, Padilla crept into the end zone of 1 yard to give Iowa a 10-3 lead with a 13:32 left in the first half.
Iowa’s next three drives went three-and-out, fumble, three-and-out. And it was 13-10 Minnesota early in the third quarter. Then?
Charlie Jones, take 2: A clever double move on freshman cornerback Justin Walley worked like you would draw it. Jones faked his route to the outside, then ran a mail route up a field. Padilla fired a perfect deep shot. Jones made the catch in a stride and rushed into the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown and a 17-13 Iowa lead. That was a one-game, 11-second winning drive and gave Jones his first career 100-yard reception.
“When the opportunity comes, we’ll take advantage of it,” Jones said. “We knew this was going to be a game where they would run the clock, because that’s how they play. So, we had to be ready to take the opportunity when the opportunity came.”
The deep shots continued late. Even with Iowa’s lead 24-22, Padilla took a deep crack to Arland Bruce IV with 3:36 to go from his own 35. The throw was good but hit the defender’s back and fell incomplete near Gophers’ 20. .
For the game, Padilla finished 11-for-24 for 206 yards. He threw for two touchdowns, rushed for one and made no turnovers. Iowa’s only turnover was a fumble from receiver Nico Ragaini of the second quarter.
More:Iowa football instant analysis: Strong fourth quarter keeps Hawkeyes division title hopes alive
Iowa’s defense had some tough aspects but ended up strong.
Two Minnesota wrinkles in the first half had Iowa’s well-educated defenders caught off guard.
On the Gophers’ second drive, after the Hawkeyes took a 3-0 lead, a shotgun throwing shot directed toward Iowa weak-sided two-line defender Seth Benson was very well-blocked and productive.
Freshman Mar’Keise Irving swung runs of 16 and 13 yards, a somewhat annoying development considering the Gophers ’longest run in the last four years of PJ Fleck’s era was 18 yards (once, in 2019). The backs would take a lateral pitch and run out before cutting up from the field with free space. Ky Thomas followed on that drive with 11 yards on the same concept.
“The facts are that they had their way with us in the first half. They really worked with us. They did a few things schematically that they don’t usually do, or at least don’t show up,” Ferentz said. “They clearly had a really good plan there, and we needed time to adjust to that. Not only schematically, but we didn’t play those blocks very well.”
Added Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg, who finished with 10 tackles and a key bag with 2:24 to go. “That throw was like their furrow. You have to play one or the other, so we just had to change a few things in the back, and it worked.”
In the first half alone, the Gophers scored 139 rushing yards on 29 carries – and those runs were a big furrow why. They had 204 rushing yards through three quarters but had a minus-15 (with sacks) in the fourth. Thomas had 126 yards on 29 carries; Irving was 80 on 17. Iowa did not have its first tackle for a loss until the final play of the third quarter.
The defense had coverage boos on both Minnesota touchdowns.
Facing a 10-3 deficit and a quarter-and-2 from Iowa’s 37-yard line in the second quarter, Minnesota went for it. Iowa defenders were stacked against a heavy set with Wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer in the game. Some Hawkeys pointed to the right side of the Minnesota line as if they felt something was up or they were confused.
As it turned out, something happened. Super tight end Ko Kieft – who had 10 career catches over four seasons before Saturday – leaked into the Iowa secondary and was all alone. Kramer hit him for what became a 37-yard touchdown, confirmed by a video review after a courageous effort by Matt Hankins to force a fumble as he crossed the goal line.
Kieft is a 6-foot 5, 265-pound native of Sioux Center, Iowa. Fleck noted enjoying that fact during a part-time interview.
“They went to cover 0 (man-to-man),” Fleck said, “and we knew they were going to put a lot of people in the box.”
Hankins was later beaten on Autman-Bell’s 68-yard touchdown catch.
However, again talking about the strangeness of the game, Iowa defenders said they felt stronger throughout despite playing 83 clicks.
“Looking back, we have to get out of the field faster than that,” said Jack Campbell, who had 17 tackles. “But it says a lot about the guys in that room. We fought during those 40 minutes we were on the field. We didn’t give them anything easy.”
More:Yes, Iowa football and Minnesota play for a pig. Here’s what to know about the story of Floyd of Rosedale
“It was a really good day” for the offensive line
That was Ferentz’s assessment after the game.
The starting five played the entire game: Jack Plumb, Kyler Schott, Tyler Linderbaum, Connor Colby and Nick DeJong. Currently these are Iowa’s “top five”.
“I left the field on Wednesday feeling good about the way we exercised for three straight days,” Ferentz said. “… I just felt like our kids were gaining ground.
“We can’t exercise on pads as much as you’d like this time of year,” Ferentz said. “It’s just not realistic. I hoped that would show up today, and I think so. I think they competed hard.”
It is possible that left tackle Mason Richman will return from a leg injury next week, which would help even more.
A few more shouts
After a rough start to the game, Iowa pitcher Tory Taylor came in big late. He delivered a 51-yard punt that was dropped at Minnesota’s 10-yard line with Iowa’s lead cut to 24-22. That set the final, game-winning sequences. … Even if Iowa’s defense didn’t create a turnover officially, Logan Lee’s blocked field goal to start the fourth quarter was a huge momentum swing. That gave Iowa the ball at its own 42-yard line and set up Johnson’s base catch.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.