Iowa 48, Minnesota 31: What we learned from dominant Hawkeyes' showing
MINNEAPOLIS — There was an unexpected abundance of points and memorable moments Saturday.
Iowa made most of them, getting four touchdown passes from Nate Stanley, another score on a fake field goal, scrounging up five sacks and four interceptions to beat Minnesota 48-31 at TCF Bank Stadium.
It enabled the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) to hang on to the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy for a fourth consecutive year. It also gave them a win in their first road contest of the season.
The victory certainly wasn't flawless. Two Iowa turnovers gave the Gophers (3-2, 0-2) the football inside the Hawkeyes' 10-yard line. Minnesota turned those gifts into 14 points to keep the score close into the fourth quarter.
But Iowa had more than enough to keep Minnesota at bay.
Here's what we learned:
Iowa defense still shuffling: The Hawkeyes have made extensive use of eight defensive linemen, six linebackers and seven defensive backs this season. Not all of that is by design.
On Saturday, two true freshmen — Julius Brents and Riley Moss — made their first career starts at cornerback. Matt Hankins was out with an injury to his left arm. Michael Ojemudia didn't practice this week, but did play sparingly.
The Gophers mainly left Brents alone, but repeatedly attacked Moss, including on their first touchdown — a 3-yard fade to Rashod Bateman, who leaped to catch it over the Hawkeye rookie. Moss later picked up a 15-yard penalty for grabbing a Minnesota receiver.
Moss earned a measure of redemption when he snared his first career interception on another jump-ball situation in the end zone. He got his second in the fourth quarter, returning it to the Gophers' 9-yard line to set up the clinching score.
Brents showed that he may stick in the starting lineup, getting his first career interception on a fourth-quarter deep pass. But it was clear that the Hawkeyes could dearly use Hankins, who is their best cornerback.
At linebacker, Jack Hockaday limped off the field late in the first half and didn't return. He was later seen on crutches and was replaced by Amani Jones. To compound matters, Jones was flagged for targeting in the final minute Saturday, was ejected from the game and must sit out the first half of next Saturday's contest at Indiana.
Hockaday entered the game as Iowa's leading tackler and steadying influence on a linebacker unit that has seen plenty of churn this season. Djimon Colbert started at weakside linebacker.
With starting outside linebacker Nick Niemann sidelined by a leg injury, Iowa opted to replace him with a safety. Amani Hooker slid to that spot for much of the game, with Geno Stone and Jake Gervase patrolling the back end of the defense. That was in part to counteract a Minnesota offense that routinely used three wide receivers and all but abandoned the run game.
But all of the shuffling came with a price. Not only did the Gophers connect on deep passes with some regularity, but Iowa suffered a costly penalty to prolong Minnesota's first touchdown drive. The Hawkeyes were trying to insert two extra defensive backs on a third-and-9 play, but Colbert didn't come off the field, resulting in a flag for illegal substitution and some choice words from defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
Iowa's defensive line produced four sacks and has helped to cover up a lot of inexperience elsewhere. But it's a tenuous situation for the back seven now, with injuries starting to take a toll.
More special-teams trickery: Last season against Ohio State, Iowa produced the "Polecat," a fake field goal that set up a second-half touchdown in a 55-24 victory. On Saturday, let's call it the "Sidewinder."
The Hawkeyes sent Miguel Recinos out for an apparent 22-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, then shifted into a funky formation with everyone split wide of the football, all but one to the right side of the field.
Like Ohio State coach Urban Meyer last year, Minnesota's P.J. Fleck decided not to call timeout and watch the play unfold.
Long-snapper Jackson Subbert made a sidewinder snap to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who carried the ball four yards around right end for a touchdown and a 21-7 Hawkeye lead. It looked like a play kids would run in their back yards. And it worked perfectly.
Future Iowa opponents are on notice: Never assume a field goal is coming. And, if you see something weird happening, maybe you should call a timeout and talk it over.