In the early going, this game looks eerily familiar. Minnesota’s defense has already come up with two big plays, a fourth-and-1 stop on its own 26 and an interception by junior safety Kyle Theret. The offense, however, has failed to respond in kind; a 41-yard pass from junior quarterback Adam Weber to sophomore receiver Da’Jon McKnight on the Gophers’ first possession would almost surely have been a touchdown had it not been slightly underthrown. Instead, Minnesota stalled deep in Iowa State territory and settled for a 36-yard field goal.
After one quarter, there’s no indication that this team has changed since the regular season. The offense is struggling to move the ball (54 yards thus far) even though the defense is giving it chance after chance. Case in point, Theret’s second interception of the game two plays into the second quarter. The defense’s current resume: no points allowed, a fourth down stop and two forced turnovers. The offense’s…they’ll get back to you. That said, two things should be noted. First, even though Iowa State’s defense isn’t being challenged too much, it is playing well. The Cyclones’ line especially is dominating Minnesota’s front. Second, if Iowa State sticks with the run, it will be in much better shape. Both quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson are averaging 4 yards per carry out of a run-heavy spread offense. Arnaud’s arm, on the other hand, is proving errant at times. He’s 7-of-10, but two of those incompletions have been serious overthrows that were intercepted. Give the Gophers (specifically Theret) for capitalizing on their opportunities, but also realize that Iowa State can and probably will move the ball on the ground. Minnesota must keep forcing the Cyclones into third-and-longs; in other words, surefire passing downs. And there it is. 10 plays, 71 yards (mostly on the ground), capped by a 9-yard run by Arnaud and Iowa State’s rushing attack strikes for the first touchdown of the evening. Signs of life, followed by a critical mistake. Weber’s arm awoke the offense, but his arm also put the ball in the chest of Iowa State safety David Sims. Weber’s pass was behind sophomore wide receiver Troy Stoudermire, who slipped at the goal line as he tried to change direction, and Sims picked the ball off in his own end zone. With time winding down in the second quarter, the field haunted Minnesota again, this time Theret who slipped in coverage and allowed a 38-yard touchdown pass from Arnaud to wide receiver Jake Williams. Its 14-3 Iowa State at the half. That’s it, folks. The drought is over. After 10-plus quarters without a touchdown, the offense finally punched one in on a 23-yard pass from Weber to tight end Nick Tow-Arnett. The touchdown was set up by a fake punt pass from Blake Haudan to Theret that went for 40 yards on fourth-and-4. Has the face of this game shifted? We’ll have to wait and see.