Brown: Iowa's rush defense the key to beating Gophers

Rick Brown

Louis Trinca-Pasat, Hawkeyes need to defend the run against Minnesota

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Miles Shuler had no chance.

He took the handoff from Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian and ran into a 6-foot-5, 315-pound brick wall. Iowa's Carl Davis dropped Shuler in his tracks for a 6-yard loss in the first quarter of the Hawkeyes' 48-7 victory Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

When Iowa's senior defensive tackle returned to the sidelines, strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle greeted him.

"Isn't that fun?" Doyle said.

For the first in three games, Davis and his teammates on the defensive line had something to smile about. After allowing the previous two opponents, Indiana and Maryland, a total of 528 rushing yards, Northwestern managed just 105 yards in 43 carries.

"We've been needing a game like that," Davis said.

Backing it up against Minnesota this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium wouldn't be a bad idea. The Gophers are a run-first team. They're also the next big game for the Hawkeyes in the race for the Big Ten's West Division title.

"That's how it's going to be for the rest of the year," Iowa running back Mark Weisman said. "One after another. But only one at a time."

Nebraska is 4-1, while Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are 3-1.

"It's the playoffs," Davis said. "One game down."

Next up is the annual battle for Floyd of Rosedale, and a date with Minnesota running back David Cobb. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior is sixth nationally in rushing at 141.4 yards a game. Cobb's worst outing over the past two years came in a 23-7 loss to the Hawkeyes last season in Minneapolis.

Cobb, who rushed for 1,202 yards in 2013, managed just 20 yards in eight carries against Iowa. He's rushed for 1,131 yards this season. The only Big Ten team to hold him under 100 yards in 2014 is Northwestern (97 yards in 30 carries).

Cobb is averaging more yards -- 137.4 -- than Iowa allows. As a team, Minnesota is sixth in the Big Ten and 30th nationally in rushing at 216 yards a game. But if Iowa's defensive line can slow down Minnesota on the ground at the point of attack and make it tough for Cobb to grind out yards, the Hawkeyes will win this game.

That's because making the Gophers throw is a recipe for success. Minnesota is last in the Big Ten and 120th nationally in passing at 140.5 yards a game. Iowa is fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense at 185.4 yards.

Cobb will be the third top-10 back Iowa has faced. Indiana's Tevin Coleman, currently the nation's leading rusher, had 219 yards on 15 carries against the Hawkeyes. And Pittsburgh's James Conner, now fourth nationally, had 155 yards from 29 carries. Waiting in the wings are No. 2 Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and No. 7 Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska.

Iowa beat Indiana and Pittsburgh, despite what Coleman and Conner were able to do. Now, it's Cobb's turn.

Last season, the Hawkeyes controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Iowa racked up 246 yards in 45 carries. Weisman had 24 yards carries for 147 yards. Minnesota managed just 30 yards in 27 carries.

The Hawkeyes' running game also showed some life against Northwestern with a season-best 221 yards. If Iowa can control the point of attack in the Twin Cities, Floyd of Rosedale will make a short trek to the new football operations center after the season.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.