Iowa takes control of clock just in time at Minnesota

Chris Cuellar

MINNEAPOLIS  — Clocks were counting down on Iowa’s season.

Poor in time of possession and worse in stringing together offensive snaps, all while watching Big Ten Conference contention tick away, the Hawkeyes took control of Saturday’s minutes and seconds at TCF Bank Stadium.

By keeping Minnesota off the ball and executing when it mattered, Iowa (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) retained Floyd of Rosedale and remains in the West Division race.

“I’m really proud of what the offense did with time of possession,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday. “Any time you’re in a game like this where it’s a real defensive battle, time of possession really plays into it. That was good.”

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley (25) rushes for a touchdown in the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes won 14-7.

The Hawkeyes ran out to Minnesota’s turf ranked 125th out of 128 FBS teams in offensive plays per game. They rallied by posting season-bests in snaps and time of possession — 72 plays over 34:55 — as the Golden Gophers (3-2, 0-2) punted nine times. It took a group effort to earn that overdue result.

“Hopefully it’s a step in right direction for us,” left tackle Boone Myers said. “That’s what we’ve been struggling with is putting the cap on games. It feels good.”

Leistikow: Hawkeye defense finds fire in surprising places

A run-first Iowa offense focused on ball control without conservatively milking the clock. Four drives lasted at least 10 plays and each went longer than 4:27.

Running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels were responsible for that behind a reconfigured offensive line. The duo combined for 31 carries and 173 yards, including Wadley’s 54-yard go-ahead touchdown run with 5:28 left.

“Their defense was great,” Wadley said. “They had huge (linebackers), but we kept grinding. We just wanted to grind … sooner or later, they slip up and it’ll be a long one. Either me or LeShun was going to have it, and I got it.”

Iowa rushed for 100 more yards than it did in a Week 5 loss to Northwestern, despite being credited for the same number of rushing attempts.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard extended drives also, performing better on third down despite the obvious passing situations. The star senior was 8 of 12 throwing on third down, picking up 74 yards and four first downs in the process.

His worst slip-up came on a third-and-13 throw on an 11-play Iowa drive, tossing a sideline interception to Minnesota’s Kamal Martin with 6:49 left. It came on the fringe of the red zone and showed that the Hawkeyes still have some issues closing out their long series.

None of their four longest drives ended perfectly: field goal, punt, field goal, interception.

“One thing we’re going to need to work on is finishing drives,” Beathard said. “Defense did a good job of giving us field position a lot of the game and we’ve got to come out and finish them.”

But the only reason Iowa got those offensive opportunities and decisively won the time of possession battle is because of its defense. Coordinator Phil Parker’s unit played its best game in a month with Big Ten title game hopes on the line, even inspiring loud, “Let’s Go Hawks!” chants in corners of TCF Bank Stadium during the tense fourth quarter.

It forced the Gophers to go three-and-out on eight of their 14 drives and had the football for 25:05 in front of a groaning home crowd.

“If (the offense) is on the field a little more than us, we’re ready to go,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “Every time they have a big drive, we’re ready to come back and try and perform our best.”

More coverage from Saturday's win:

Linebacker Ben Niemann admitted last week to tiring out on long defensive drives as Iowa struggled to get off the field. That wasn’t an issue Saturday: Minnesota’s first five drives of the fourth quarter took 5:25 off the clock and moved just five yards.

And the late drive that almost ruined it all was halted by a defensive stand and turnover on downs.

“We didn’t expect to be tired or anything like that,” senior cornerback Desmond King said. “We wanted the game to end with us on the field and that’s what we did.”

The Hawkeyes still have plenty of room for growth.

A 6-for-17 mark converting third downs means more long drives and ball control could help. The defense was almost burned by back-to-back replayed receptions on Minnesota’s final series. All of the Hawkeyes that faced the media postgame agreed that the slogging 14-7 win was pretty as a pig.

It’s about time that type of game went their way.

“We finally broke the rock,” left tackle-turned right tackle Cole Croston said.

More plays don’t mean better plays, but Iowa is happy to have more opportunities.

“We do a lot better when we have the ball,” tight end George Kittle said with a laugh, “instead of letting the defense play the whole game.”

Iowa against the clock

A listing of Iowa’s time of possession and offensive plays through the first half of the season. It posted season-highs in both categories on Saturday at Minnesota:

Week    Opp.                     TOP       Plays     Yards

1             Miami (Ohio)      23:39     50          404       

2             Iowa State           32:08     66          435

3             N.D. State           23:20      49          231

4             Rutgers                29:19    61          355

5             Northwestern     31:39     68           283

6             Minnesota           34:55    72          321

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