Stops made at key times

by Mark Heise

Looking at the 546 total yards Minnesota’s football team gave up on Saturday, it would be hard to believe it was the defense that won the game.

But that was exactly how the Gophers defeated Iowa, forcing turnovers in key situations to come away with the 34-24 win.

“They can drive the ball down the field all they want as long as we keep them out of the end zone,” junior linebacker Mike Sherels said. “When the time comes for somebody to make a play, somebody has to step up and make that play, and that’s what we’ve been able to do the last three weeks.”

Minnesota’s five takeaways Saturday give the Gophers a total of 10 during their current three-game win streak, compared to just two giveaways.

On the year, Minnesota is second in the country with a turnover margin of +1.33, second only to Nevada with a +1.36 margin.

Senior linebacker Mario Reese gave the Gophers a jumpstart in the game, recovering a fumble on Iowa’s first drive and setting Minnesota up for a quick score.

Up 20-17 late in the first half, the Gophers were in danger of losing their lead. Iowa drove to the 3-yard line and it was first and goal with 50 seconds remaining. On play-action, the Hawkeyes tossed the ball over the middle to a seemingly open receiver. Popping up over the line, Sherels snatched the ball halfway to its target, preserving Minnesota’s lead.

“If we could’ve held Iowa to a field goal in that situation, we would’ve been ecstatic,” coach Glen Mason said. “When Sherels made that interception, the momentum was in our back pocket. To get out of there without giving up any points was huge.”

The pick could easily be categorized as the play of the game, but with three more drive-stopping interceptions in the second half, Reese said if the Hawkeyes scored to end the first half, Minnesota would have still been able to recover and pick up the win.

“I still think we would’ve been able to stick together,” he said. “We were down against Michigan State last week and we were able to build momentum late and pull out the win. I think we’re gelling well enough where we can come back from a setback or two.”

The Gophers picked off two more passes at midfield in the third quarter and sealed their victory with an interception late in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota’s four interceptions are the most it has recorded in a single game since 1998. The Gophers posted the same number on Nov. 21 that year, also against the Hawkeyes.

“We had a lot of big plays in the game today,” Mason said. “With four interceptions and a fumble recovery, there was a lot that went well for us. Our defense stepped up for us in a big way.”