• Iowa grinds run game for game-winning TD
    Iowa grinds run game for game-winning TD
  • C.J. Beathard, now 8-0 as road starter
    C.J. Beathard, now 8-0 as road starter
  • Brandon Snyder reflects on Hawkeye victory
    Brandon Snyder reflects on Hawkeye victory
  • Josey Jewell explains Iowa's improved defense
    Josey Jewell explains Iowa's improved defense
  • James Daniels on Iowa's improved offensive line play
    James Daniels on Iowa's improved offensive line play
  • Boone Myers getting back to 'Iowa football'
    Boone Myers getting back to 'Iowa football'
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Iowa football team has played two road games this season and won them both 14-7.

Two weeks ago at Rutgers, it felt like the Hawkeyes were circling the drain. Saturday at Minnesota, it felt like they circled the wagons.

It wasn’t just that beating the Gophers is a much bigger accomplishment than sleepwalking past the Scarlet Knights. It was how Iowa conducted itself at TCF Bank Stadium — turning in the best defensive performance of the season while the offense found a little bit of push when it needed to.

Hawkeye players talked openly about how crucial Saturday’s game was after three weeks of ragged play left them with a 3-2 record and a fan base full of bile.

Tailback Akrum Wadley called it “a must-win.” Wide receiver Riley McCarron spoke of “gut-check time.”

The scoreboard revealed that Wadley got his victory. You had to look a little closer to sense that McCarron got his wish, even if Iowa’s performance at times probably also turned some stomachs.

More coverage from Saturday's win:

What did Iowa’s senior tight end George Kittle learn about his team Saturday?

“Some hard-nosed dudes,” said Kittle, who definitely fit that description with his blocking and four pass receptions. “We’re going to go out there — no matter what — and we’re going to play as hard as we possibly can. We’ve got guys that can finish the game.”

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The defense was the stouter unit for Iowa, no question. It was also the one that finished the game, holding on four downs after Minnesota drove to its 13-yard line in the final minute.

“We wanted the game to end with us on the field, and that’s what we did today,” cornerback Desmond King said, even though, technically, it was the offense that went into victory formation with 43 seconds left. “We wanted to come out here and play our hearts out — play the full 60 minutes.

“This win defines our season.”

The Hawkeye offense, meanwhile, continued to sputter for much of the game. Quarterback C.J. Beathard completed only 17 of 31 passes for 142 yards and two uncharacteristic interceptions. He even punted for the second consecutive week.

But that doesn’t tell the full story.

Iowa finally enjoyed a sizeable edge in time of possession (34:55 to 25:05). The Hawkeyes stuck with the run game until it paid off, gaining exactly 100 more yards than they did a week ago in a 38-31 loss to Northwestern on the same number of attempts (41). They committed only four penalties while Minnesota racked up eight. And Beathard, behind a reshuffled offensive line, was sacked just once.

This is progress, even if it didn’t always resemble it.

“I’d like to say we wanted it more. We wanted it very bad,” Beathard said after a game in which his most memorable play was one that saw him helicoptering dangerously to his own sideline after one rushing attempt. “It’s a big turning point for this team, I think, and it’s nice to get back on a winning streak.”

The season is half over, with Iowa at 4-2 and a date with Purdue next. It’s clear that games like Saturday’s — grueling, cover-your-eyes and grit-your-teeth affairs in which winning feels like mere survival — are going to be the norm most weeks from here on out.

The Hawkeyes say they’re ready.

“Coach (Kirk Ferentz) is always talking about embracing having close games. We knew it was going to be a close game. It was just who was better today,” Wadley said after his 54-yard touchdown proved to be the difference Saturday.

Close games, with the weather changing to autumn as it did Saturday, when the temperature was a crisp 46 degrees at kickoff, put a premium on the ability to run the football and to stop the opposition from doing so. That was the best sign for the Hawkeyes against Minnesota — a 179-102 advantage on the ground.

“You obviously want to put more points up on the board, but I felt like, this week, we were able to move the ball a little bit more consistently and get a little better rhythm,” said Iowa senior tailback LeShun Daniels Jr., who carried 17 times for 66 yards.

“The past three weeks we really weren’t playing all that well. I think the offensive line felt they were part of the blame for it. They wanted to come out this game and set an aggressive tempo, be physical and allow us to move the ball.”

The Hawkeyes showed some backbone Saturday. That alone won’t get them to Indianapolis. But it’s a start.

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