Leistikow's Iowa-Minnesota prediction: A two-step recipe to hoisting Floyd of Rosedale

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — In 86 previous battles for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy, introduced in 1935, Iowa and Minnesota are, remarkably, dead even — 42 wins apiece with two ties.

There should be little mystery to Iowa’s plan of attack to claim the lead in this heated rivalry and ultimately hoist the 98-pound bronze pig beneath the lights Saturday at chilly Kinnick Stadium.

If the Hawkeyes do two things Saturday, they’ll win. If they don’t do both, mentally brace yourself for a frustrating loss.

No. 1: Hold serve against Minnesota’s behemoth offensive line.

Minnesota boasts the most experienced O-line in the country with 215 career starts, and there is plenty of beef (or should we say pork?) across the board. The average size of the Golden Gophers’ top six linemen is 6-foot-5, 336 pounds.

Meantime, the eight players on Iowa’s rotating defensive line average 6-3½, 270. In other words, the Hawkeyes are giving up 66 pounds per man when P.J. Fleck's Gophers have the ball. They are similar to Wisconsin in that they're built to run the ball and chew clock, though they use more zone blocking (like Iowa prefers) and a read-option attack with quarterback Tanner Morgan.

“Sometimes they’ll have seven O-linemen in the game,” Iowa 266-pound defensive end John Waggoner said. “We’ve got to have our fundamentals; stay low and get under their pads, knock these guys back and stop the run.”

In their three most decisive wins against Colorado, Maryland and Northwestern, the Gophers amassed a per-game average of 54 carries and 303.3 yards. They want to hog the ball, then seize the bronze hog.

But there’s good news here for the Hawkeyes. In four meetings against Fleck's system, they have held the Gophers to per-carry averages of 3.3 in 2017, 2.8 in 2018, 2.1 in 2019 and 3.6 in 2020. And they’ve faced many of these same linemen since '17.

“We’ve played against this offense for the past couple of years,” free safety Jack Koerner said. “We understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to run the ball, run the ball and maybe pop something deep if they suck us up on the run too much. We understand their identity.”

Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg (97) slows down Minnesota's Tanner Morgan in last year's matchup, a 35-7 Hawkeye victory in Minneapolis.

No. 2: Don’t let Minnesota play with the lead.

Let’s flash back again to my three-hour summer podcast with Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. During that conversation, Ferentz revealed that the Hawkeyes’ offensive game plan in 2019 was to be more aggressive than usual. The Hawkeyes knew that if they could seize the lead, Minnesota — even at 9-0 and a No. 7 national ranking — would have a hard time rallying.

“They could run the ball at will. It’s what you aspire to be offensively,” Ferentz shared. “… We knew we were going to have to score points.”

More:What channel is Iowa football vs. Minnesota? How to watch, stream and listen to the Floyd of Rosedale game

Amazingly, Iowa has never trailed against Fleck. It has used the same formula each year. In 2019, it grabbed a 13-0 lead with touchdowns on its first two drives. Even with a 23-19 lead in the final minutes on defense, Ferentz liked the Hawkeyes' chances.

“I don’t mind telling you, I wasn’t that worried,” Ferentz said. “Because they weren’t built to play that way. Yeah, they could throw the ball, but all of their big plays were on play-actions. When they were just dropped back (and) throwing, that wasn’t their strength.”

And that was with current NFL receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman on Minnesota's roster. Today, the Gophers are extremely limited in the passing game.

If you watched Minnesota’s 14-6 home loss to Illinois last week, you know exactly what I mean. The Illini used an early turnover and two strong touchdown drives to take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. Minnesota’s offense needs long, sustained drives to succeed. It’s difficult to stay patient for 3-4 yards at a time when you're down two touchdowns.

Again, let’s look at Iowa’s history vs. Fleck. The Hawkeyes’ undersized defensive line has totaled 19 sacks and the defense has eight interceptions in the four meetings. When the Gophers have to pass, Iowa's D-line athleticism can run around oversized linemen. This is a bad passing matchup for the Gophers.

Expect the Hawkeyes to be aggressive in the passing game in Alex Padilla’s first career start. That was the formula that worked when Padilla came off the bench last week at Northwestern, turning a 0-0 game into a 14-0 lead. That is the ideal path to victory again Saturday.

Minnesota wins if …

The Gophers can ride motivation off last week's embarrassing loss and carry confidence in knowing they're 3-0 on the road this season (Colorado, Purdue and Northwestern). That Purdue win is looking better and better, and Minnesota shut out the Boilermakers, 10-0, in the second half. Morgan has the ability to get hot. A persistent spirit combined with the aforementioned up-front play can deliver Minnesota's first win at Kinnick Stadium since 1999.

Iowa wins if …

Cold and windy conditions are expected, so Padilla must be razor-sharp in the short passing game against a Minnesota defense that's ranked No. 7 in the country and is stout on the defensive line. The Hawkeyes must capitalize on their three biggest advantages — more playmakers on offense, led by Tyler Goodson; their ball-hawking secondary, where Riley Moss returns after a three-game absence; and with the home crowd, which should be revved up for its first Kinnick game in a month. 

Minnesota (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 14 Iowa (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten)

Time, TV, Tipico Sportsbook line:2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN, Iowa by 4½ points

Prediction: Iowa 28, Minnesota 17 … Padilla throws his first two career touchdown passes, and the defense scores a touchdown for the first time since Week 2. 

Saturday's other Big Ten games

(All times CT, lines from Tipico Sportsbook)

No. 8 Michigan (8-1, 5-1) at No. 23 Penn State (6-3, 3-3)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., ABC, Michigan by 1

Prediction: Penn State's shortcomings on the offensive line and run game will be magnified against Michigan's elite defensive front, led by Aidan Hutchinson. The Nittany Lions' best hope is that Sean Clifford is hot and stays healthy. Michigan 24, Penn State 17

Northwestern (3-6, 1-5) at No. 24 Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., ESPN2, Wisconsin by 24

Prediction: It's difficult to envision Northwestern being able to score against the Badgers' defense, which overtook Georgia for No. 1 nationally. But Pat Fitzgerald, even with his bad teams (see 2019), has always found a way to keep the score within striking distance against Wisconsin, which has bigger games on deck. Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 13

Rutgers (4-5, 1-5) at Indiana (2-7, 0-6)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., BTN, Indiana by 7

Prediction: The preseason top-20 Hoosiers must win this one or else finish 0-6 against the Big Ten East. Rutgers has bowl-eligibility motivation, with a winnable home finale against Maryland in two weeks. Keep an eye on Indiana's quarterback situation; Tom Allen hinted that Michael Penix Jr. could return from injury. Rutgers 20, Indiana 17

Purdue (6-3, 4-2) at No. 5 Ohio State (8-1, 6-0)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., ABC, Ohio State by 21

Prediction: The Boilermakers are a well-coached team with elite talent in receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis. Even after a riveting performance against Michigan State, the Boilers should have the firepower and motivation to hang around. Tough order for the Buckeyes: They need to beat Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and win the Big Ten title game in succession to reach the College Football Playoff. Ohio State 45, Purdue 33

Maryland (5-4, 2-4) at No. 9 Michigan State (8-1, 5-1)

Time, TV, line: 3 p.m., Fox, Michigan State by 13

Prediction: The Spartans should have no trouble finding fire after last week's loss to Purdue and being ranked behind Michigan (which they beat) in the CFP rankings. However, their porous secondary fits into Maryland's pass-game strength. Michigan State 35, Maryland 28

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.