Big 10 conference play begins in earnest Saturday, and in the name of Floyd the first game out of the chute for Iowa is its big rivalry with Minnesota for all the bacon, a.k.a. the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. Here are five things to watch when the two teams take the field at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis:
Ground and grunt – Both teams love to tote the pig through the trenches, and Saturday should be a game of chicken to see which defense blinks first. Minnesota rushed for 353 yards and six touchdowns last week in a win against San Jose State. Iowa has three consecutive games of more than 200 yards rushing and boasts a quarterback who has four scores himself on the ground. Hawkeyes running back Mark Weisman is among the nation’s leaders in rushing, so when he speaks it’s Weis to listen.
“Control the line, that’s what its always about,” Weisman said. “You have to control the line on offense and defense. That’s where it all starts, in the trenches.”
Weiser words were never spoken.
Special K (MM) – The Gophers have been more like an orangutan lately, scoring every which way but loose. They have five non-offensive touchdowns already, including a punt return and kickoff return. Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley had two punt returns for scores and 184 yards last week vs. Western Michigan. The Hawkeyes are third in the nation in punt-return average at 25.1, but Iowa has been prone to special teams breakdowns on occasion. In a close, hard-hitting slugfest, one special teams play could tip the balance.
Goal-line gambits – The Gophers have scored 16 rushing touchdowns this season, 16 more the Hawkeyes have allowed. Something has to give, but the question is how much? Iowa boasts three of the conference’s top linebackers in Chris Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris. Part of their job will be to contain Gophers QB Mitch Leidner, who rushed for 151 yards against SJSU.
“I think the key to that is everybody is just playing fast,” Kirksey said. “Making sure he doesn’t hurt us with his legs and make him throw the ball. Getting in his face a lot and applying pressure.”
B1G plays – With both teams geared to stack the box and stop the run, both quarterbacks will be looking to take their shots. Advantage goes to Iowa QB Jake Rudock, who has five touchdown passes this season compared with Leidner’s zero. Iowa’s secondary has improved of late: cornerback B.J. Lowery has three interceptions and safety Tanner Miller has two.
“They’ve seen that our second- and third-level guys are aggressive in the run, and I think they will try to exploit that with play-action passes,” Miller said. “They are a team that likes to pound and pound it and then take their shot.”
Addition by subtraction – Turnovers have played key roles for both teams this season. Iowa’s only loss was aided by a fourth-quarter interception of Rudock against Northern Illinois. The Hawkeyes are plus-two in turnover margin, while the Gophers are plus-five. With field position being a premium, a timely turnover could lead to an easy score that could prove to be the difference.