Hawkeye quarterback accepts much of the blame for Saturday's loss. Andrew Logue/The Register
MINNEAPOLIS – This was a debacle.
A crowd of 49,680 in TCF Bank Stadium watched Saturday as Minnesota delivered a 51-14 shellacking of Iowa.
And it wasn't really that close.
"They had that hunger, and we didn't," Hawkeye safety John Lowdermilk said. "They wanted it more than we did."
In a showdown of Big Ten West Division contenders, Iowa committed three first-half turnovers – not counting a 14-yard punt that was deflected – and trailed by 28 points at the intermission.
After marching 76 yards on the opening series, the Hawkeyes managed just 60 total yards on their next 10 possessions.
"I can't really put a finger on it," quarterback Jake Rudock said. "We just didn't play good football."
The defense didn't do much better.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had been completing 51.1 percent of his passes, but hit on nine of his first 11 attempts Saturday.
He threw six touchdowns in Minnesota's first eight games, but exposed the Hawkeyes with scoring tosses of 44, 9 and 4 yards in the first half.
Leidner's fourth touchdown came on a 3-yard pass to Maxx Williams in the third quarter, pushing the Gophers' lead to 42-7.
"Mitch keeps getting better and better," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "When the quarterback plays well, you've got a chance to win."
Rudock, meanwhile, went 10 of 19 for 89 yards, with an interception, before he was replaced by C.J. Beathard.
"We've just got to come out and play better football," Rudock said. "It's really that simple."
Perhaps, this shouldn't have come as a shock.
In a topsy-turvy season, Iowa (6-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten) was due for another letdown. Minnesota (7-2, 4-1) was primed for a beat down.
"Maybe we fell victim to believing our own bull crap," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "The game is still about playing week to week.
"You've got to show up every Saturday, play and compete. We didn't do that today."
A 48-7 victory over Northwestern a week earlier put the Hawkeyes in the conversation for a possible West Division title run.
Now, they seem to be waiting for a call from some group of mid-level bowl representatives. Hello, Nashville? Jacksonville, anyone?
"We've just got to move on," receiver Tevaun Smith said.
It all started well enough.
Mark Weisman's 1-yard touchdown run capped a 12-play drive – which included four third-down conversions – and gave Iowa a 7-0 lead.
The Gophers responded with 51 unanswered points.
"I feel like nothing was really clicking on offense," Smith said. "That happens some days."
Leidner's first touchdown, a 44-yard pass to Donovahn Jones, put Minnesota ahead 14-7 – after the Gophers' Eric Murray tipped Connor Kornbrath's punt, keeping the ball on the Hawkeyes' side of the field.
"They made some good plays," defensive tackle Carl Davis said. "They were ready to go."
At one point in the third quarter, the Gophers were out-gaining Iowa 346 yards to 113.
Hawkeye ball carries averaged 2.8 yards per rush, while Rudock and Beathard were running for their lives.
"They brought a few different pressures," Rudock said. "Nothing they hadn't done before.
"That's the thing: They played their game plan. We just didn't handle it well."
It was the Hawkeyes' most lackluster effort against Minnesota since 1998, when they were defeated 49-7 in Hayden Fry's finale as Iowa coach.
For the Gophers, a path to the West Division crown remains clear, but bumpy, hosting Ohio State this weekend, before visiting Nebraska and Wisconsin.
They celebrated Saturday by hoisting the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy.
"The neat thing is, our fans get to take their picture with the Jug (after beating Michigan) and now they get to take their picture with the pig," Kill said. "It's great for our state. I know how important it is."