MINNEAPOLIS — It was a beautifully executed offensive play in a football game that was otherwise devoid of beauty.
Iowa tailback Akrum Wadley took a handoff with 5:28 left Saturday, hit a crease on the left side of his offensive line, got an exceptional block from tight end George Kittle, deked out one defender and bolted 54 yards down the field for a touchdown.
It was the Hawkeyes’ longest play from scrimmage this season, and it sent them to a bare-knuckled 14-7 victory over Minnesota before an announced crowd of 49,195 at TCF Bank Stadium. It also breathed new life into Iowa’s hopes for a repeat Big Ten Conference West division title.
“I told (Wadley) when we called it, I was like, ‘I’m going to make a hole for you, man.’ And he counted on me and I got my job done. The whole offensive line got the job done,” said Kittle, who pushed his defender into the Iowa sideline as matter-of-factly as if he was hitting a blocking sled.
“He was out of bounds, for sure. He was gone.”
In a game marked by defensive dominance and offensive futility, Wadley’s run — on the first play of a Hawkeye drive — was a back-breaker. Iowa and Minnesota each committed three turnovers and combined for 15 punts.
Twice, the Hawkeyes drove into the red zone and had to settle for short Keith Duncan field goals. The Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) looked like a capable offensive unit on exactly one drive: a 58-yarder that ended with Shannon Brooks’ 9-yard touchdown to claim a 7-6 lead with 6:17 left in the third quarter.
And it was almost enough.
The Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1) started seven drives beyond their own 40-yard line but could never seem to take advantage. After the Gophers’ touchdown, Iowa punted twice, fumbled once and was intercepted once at Minnesota’s 21-yard line.
Each time, the defense quickly got the ball back. Six subsequent Gophers possessions consumed a total of 18 plays.
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- Iowa Analysis: Hawkeyes show some spunk and spine
- Leistikow: Hawkeyes find some fire in surprising places
Eventually, Wadley struck on an inside zone play that had picked up six yards on one first-half try.
“We just kept grinding,” said Wadley, who rushed for 107 of Iowa’s 179 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for his career. “Sooner or later, if they slip up, it will be a long one. Either me or LeShun (Daniels Jr.) was going to hit it, and I was the one that got it.”
Wadley was in the open field so quickly that he was able to high-step into the end zone, a showy display that has been discouraged by his coaches.
“They’d been hitting me all game, so why not?” he said afterward.
Iowa’s defense did most of the hitting Saturday.
The Hawkeyes limited a Minnesota team that was averaging 36 points per game to 268 yards of offense. In the first quarter, linebacker Bo Bower pried the football away from Gophers running back Rodney Smith, and safety Brandon Snyder recovered it. Snyder added a fourth-quarter interception of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner, who earlier had thrown a pass directly to Hawkeye freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba.
Leidner, who had helped the Gophers pile up 86 points in two previous games against Iowa, was never comfortable in this one. He finished 13-of-33 for 166 yards and the two interceptions. He also was sacked twice and able to convert only 4-of-15 third downs. Minnesota held the ball for only 25 minutes and 5 seconds.
The Gophers gave themselves one final chance to tie the score, driving 70 yards in 43 seconds without a timeout, reaching Iowa’s 13-yard line. Leidner followed with four incompletions, the final one broken up by Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin in the end zone.
“We had to put our knuckles down on the ground and dig deep for it,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said of the defense’s final stand in an impeccable performance. “(Mabin) played great coverage on it.”
The victory allowed the Hawkeyes to maintain possession of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, making them six for their last six games in which a statue was at stake. King carried the bronze pig to the locker room.
It was a fitting metaphor for a team that has been ground up in recent weeks — losers of two of three games ahead of Saturday's matchup. This time, fans got to see how the sausage is made for the Hawkeyes — with a relentless rushing game and a punishing defense. It wasn’t pretty, but it was satisfying for the visiting team.
“They went up and we were able to respond, even after we had a turnover down there,” Kittle said.
“Floyd’s Floyd, and it’s one of the best trophies in college football. It adds a little extra desire to it, and that’s something we’ll be able to bring in to next week.”
Iowa visits Purdue for an 11 a.m. game next Saturday. There isn’t a trophy at stake, but thanks to Saturday’s performance, there is still a Big Ten West title up for grabs.