Somehow, this Iowa football team is just one home win over Nebraska away from being a Big Ten West champion again.
The final chapter in a season that’s been shaping up well lately, despite much early turmoil, came in Minneapolis on Saturday, where the Hawkeyes clinched a 13-10 win over Minnesota. Combine the win with Illinois’ loss earlier in the day and the Hawkeyes have the help they need to reach Indianapolis again.
Jack Campbell was legendary. Drew Stevens was clutch. Spencer Petras at least saved his biggest shot of the night to buy time.
Let’s look at the testimony.
Offense: What would Iowa’s offense have been like without Sam LaPorta’s injury?
The Hawkeyes were unlikely to light the scoreboard regardless of their offensive weapons all being healthy. But Sam LaPorta, who left the game with a leg injury after a monster in the first quarter, put a significant strain on Iowa’s offensive flow.
LaPorta finished with four grabs for 95 yards, including a huge 58-yard catch and run on a tunnel screen that set up Iowa’s first field goal. The Hawkeyes had 106 passing yards in the first quarter and 115 in the last three quarters.
The usual suspects reappeared. Iowa’s offensive line was mishandled most of the day and never let the ground game flow. Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams needed 19 carries for 81 yards.
Despite all his struggles on Saturday and beyond, Petras saved his best shot for the most important moment of the game. A 33-yard connection with tight end Luke Lachey came right after Campbell’s interception and upset Iowa with just under a minute left at the Minnesota 12-yard line. Petras delivered a perfect ball into the seam that only Lachey could grab.
At this point, an Iowa win on offense doesn’t squander the golden opportunities presented by defense. The Hawkeyes get a passing grade in that department.
More:Leistikow’s early thoughts after Iowa’s unlikely 13-10 win in Minnesota
Defense: Two late turnovers overshadow a patchy mileage
Minnesota workhorse Mohamed Ibrahim has made many defenses look silly over the years, but Saturday’s effort was even more impressive considering who was on the other side.
Ibrahim rumbled for a career-high 263 yards on 39 carries with one touchdown. He’d seemingly worn down Iowa’s defense late with one powerful run after another until a costly fumble ignited the Hawkeyes’ late defensive vortex that made the difference.
Praise Phil Parker’s unit for persevering and not losing focus despite Ibrahim’s massive contributions in the fourth quarter. That focus allowed Campbell to pull in a pass separation from Riley Moss, who raced straight at him as Minnesota drove to the potentially game-winning field goal.
It should have been another defensive touchdown after Campbell scurried into the end zone but was mistakenly disqualified from the game on the return. Nevertheless, Iowa is happy to put up with the effort.
It’s the sixth time this season that Iowa has dropped 10 points or fewer, including their last three games. Even if Ibrahim runs wild, the Hawkeyes’ defense deserves a positive review.
More:Iowa football’s late win over rival Minnesota sets the stage for next Friday’s division title game
Special teams: Drew Stevens’ field goals come in crucial places
Although the distances from Stevens’ field goals don’t jump off the side — 38 and 21 yards — the kicks came at two very important stages of the game.
The second scenario is obvious. There’s still plenty of pressure on a game-winning kick, no matter how far away, and Stevens did his job despite Iowa having to time out in desperation before his first try.
The first field goal came with nine minutes remaining in the first quarter, giving the Hawkeyes a 3-0 lead. This shoe followed LaPorta’s big grab and ensured Iowa’s offense wouldn’t waste the rare splash play.
More:Recap: Jack Campbell’s late exploits propelled Iowa football to a 13-10 win over Minnesota
Coaching: The heat is easing a bit after Iowa’s fourth straight win
This Iowa team’s identity hasn’t changed during its four-game winning streak, but victories, even if they’re not pretty, usually keep the chatter low.
This wasn’t a narrative-changing performance for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. This was not a narrative change for Parker and his elite unit. This wasn’t a narrative win for head coach Kirk Ferentz, either.
However, the fact that the Hawkeyes are just a manageable win away from back-to-back division titles is thanks to the Iowa coaches, who didn’t spiral things completely when they could easily have done so.
A win away from Indianapolis seemed like a pipe dream a month ago. Now? Not as much.
Dargan Southard is a sports trends reporter, covering athletics in Iowa for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Dargan_Southard.