Iowa vs. Minnesota football preview

Iowa’s upcoming tilt against Minnesota is its most important game of the season so far, and only a Hawkeye win will see the team play bigger competitions than this one before the end of the year. Iowa’s weaknesses are obvious and its struggles well-documented, but the team did a phenomenal job after bouncing back from a slow start and a terrible three-game losing streak in October to put themselves in a shot at winning the Big Ten West earn. While a win over the Gophers doesn’t guarantee Iowa a trip to Indianapolis, a loss would all but eliminate them from the contest. To take pole position in the Big Ten West race, Iowa must beat its northern rival for an eighth straight season and win its 14thth back-to-back game in November (a streak stretching back to 2019) and picking up its first win of the season against a top-ten defense after going 4-0 against such competition so far this year. With both Iowa and Minnesota still in contention for the division crown, both teams should empty the chamber in tomorrow’s matchup at Kinnick North to win West at the expense of their hated rival.

Here are a few key factors to watch out for this weekend’s game:

1. Can Iowa Slow Minnesota’s Elite Running Attack?

Like most of the program’s existence, the strength of Minnesota’s offense lies in its fast play. Minnesota has the second-best ground game of the conference, averaging an impressive 221.2 yards per game, while star running back Mohamed Ibrahim (1,261 rushing yards this season with 5.3 yards per carry) leads the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. Ibrahim doesn’t appear to have lost a step since returning from last year’s Achilles tendon injury and has displayed the same combination of strength, speed and vision that has made him one of the Conference’s most dangerous offensive weapons since his 2018 breakout season.

However, Minnesota’s success on the ground extends beyond Ibrahim. The star running back is a workhorse who is one of the nation’s leading carries at 238, but backup Trey Potts has proven an effective yin to Ibrahim’s yang. Meanwhile, John Michael Schmitz is an elite center and leads a superb offensive line that has allowed gopher ball carriers to be stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage just 11.3% of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in college football . Minnesota’s front five have played physical, technical football this season that has allowed the Gopher running backs to maximize their performance even when faced with stingy run defenses like Illinois.

Luckily for Iowa fans, the Hawkeye defense has been exceptional this season against the run. Iowa allows the 2nd– Fewest yards per carry in college football at just 2.55, and no team has given up fewer rushing touchdowns (three) this season than the Hawkeyes. Phil Parker’s defense last week showed a master class at stopping the run, holding a strong Wisconsin ground play to just 51 yards at 1.6 yards per carry while also managing to shut down rushing lanes inside eliminate and prevent the Badger Rushers from reaching the edge. Iowa will need a similarly strong game to slow Saturday’s Gopher running game, but the Hawkeyes should have a good chance of exiting Minneapolis with a win if the defense can pull off a repeat performance.

2. Which quarterback on the team can make the most plays in attack flow?

Iowa and Minnesota are both designed to keep the ball on the ground, but either team can experience a hard sled against an opposing defense that steps in to end the run. When that happens, the Hawkeyes and Gophers will need to get competent play out of their passing games to have any chance of winning. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras only had 94 passing yards against Wisconsin, but much of the blame for that poor performance rested on the shoulders of an offensive line that allowed six sacks and more QB pressure than this author could count. While Minnesota has excellent passing defense (the Gophers are allowing just 167.2 passing yards per game this season, the eighth fewest in the country), there’s reason to think Iowa’s line could fare better than the Badgers’ against Minnesota’s passing rush. The Gophers are averaging just 1.6 sacks per game (the third-lowest rate in the Big Ten), just slightly more than Northwestern (1.4 sacks per game), an opponent Iowa’s line has proven capable of, one clean bag for Petras to keep out. Iowa receivers may struggle to separate from a talented group of Gopher cornerbacks, but a bounce-back performance from Iowa’s OL could give Petras enough time to target playmaker tight ends Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey to take, whose matchups against superb safers Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin will be featured on Saturday.

The Gophers, meanwhile, have yet to announce if veteran Tanner Morgan will start under center by former Iowa target Athan Kaliakmanis. Kaliakmanis gave the Gopher offense an extra run threat to relieve the injured Morgan but struggled seriously as a passer, completing just 46.6% of his attempts for a touchdown and three interceptions. While Minnesota have an excellent receiving tight end in Brevyn Spann-Ford, the team’s receiving corps has been uninspiring as Chris Autman-Bell was lost through injury earlier in the season and should struggle to part ways against a runner-up from Iowa, who plays just as well any in the country. If Iowa manages to take away the Gopher running game and keep Kaliakmanis in the pocket, there’s reason to question whether Minnesota will be able to move the ball through the air, especially if the Hawkeyes build a lead late and the Gophers can force to become passport dependent.

3. Can Iowa find a way to win the 3rd?approx Low?

If there’s one area where the Gophers thrive on both sides of the ball, it’s at a high level in third place. Minnesota’s offense has the nation’s best third-down conversion rate at a whopping 55.56%, while defense has the second-lowest third-down success rate at just 25.41%.

Offensively, Minnesota is moving the chains at high speed, winning on early downs and putting the offense in position to move into third and short. The team’s power success rate (the percentage of runs on the third or fourth down two yards or less from target that achieved a first down or touchdown) is an impressive 90.9%, the 3approx best in the country. Iowa’s defense has been generally solid in third place this year (the Hawks only allow opponents to convert 31.06% of the time), but will be tested against an insanely efficient Gopher offense when they fail at first or second place will not produce negative plays. Meanwhile, the Minnesota defense meets a Hawkeye team that was absolutely cruel in third place, converting on a pathetic 28.99% of tries and trailing only Georgia Tech for the worst win rate in the Power Five. Freshman running back Kaleb Johnson has shown a real nose for the first down marker this season, but Iowa must avoid bogging down on early downs if they hope to put the ball in Johnson’s hands on conversion attempts this game . If the Hawkeyes can create third and short opportunities that force the defense to choose between selling out against the run or tailing reliable third-down targets Sam LaPorta or Nico Ragaini, Iowa might have a good shot at keeping its drives alive to obtain. Otherwise, expect the third-place team’s difficulties (and, with it, their struggles to maintain rides) against the Gophers to continue.

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