QUESTIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE: Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Jeff Johnson

Johnson gives insight into this week’s Minnesota vs. Iowa matchup.

Paul Hodowanic

For this weekly column, the Daily interviews someone knowledgeable on the Gophers next opponent. For this week’s game against Iowa, we interviewed Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Jeff Johnson. Johnson is a football beat reporter for the Gazette. 

What are the big storylines going into the Minnesota game?

First, how Iowa responds from losing a tight game against Wisconsin two weeks ago. Then having a full bye week last week to chew on it, that’s the biggest one to me. The other thing is this is Iowa’s first road game, even though we are in October. Especially for the younger players that haven’t had a lot of playing time prior, how will they respond by going on the road and being in a hostile environment?

How has the Iowa defense looked this year after losing key players such as Josh Jackson and Josey Jewell?

Certainly well, they go into this week second in the Big Ten in scoring defense. The defensive line in particular has been the main part of that success. I mean, when you look at guys like A.J. Epenesa, who is turning himself into a potentially great player, Parker Hesse up front, Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson — they’ve got a really good defensive line which has helped with the three inexperienced linebackers. It’s crazy because Iowa is starting, like, their fourth different linebacker combination because of injury. That position has been unsettled but I think because of how good the defensive line has been, the adjustment for the inexperienced linebackers have probably gone smoother than what a lot of people would’ve thought.

Tell me about the Wisconsin game. How did the Hawkeyes play? What did they do well and what do they need to improve on?

There was not anything really that separated Iowa from Wisconsin, except they had 3 turnovers. A couple of those were on punt returns, and those were crucial. Wisconsin does what Wisconsin always does, and they made plays at the end of the game, scored the winning touchdown with under a minute left and added another one after an interception. It was a very even game, I think in many ways Iowa may have outplayed Wisconsin. But again, the three turnovers — two on special teams — turned out to be the difference.

What will Iowa need to do against Minnesota to win?

Iowa needs to continue to progress offensively, they have had their fits and starts. There has been a little bit of upheaval in injuries and suspensions on the offensive line and that doesn’t necessarily help things. Is Iowa going to be able to run the football? That’s key to me. Defensively, is the defense going to be able to get after a pretty inexperienced quarterback in [Zack] Annexstad? Are they going to be able to cover Minnesota’s two really good receivers? One of their cornerbacks, [Matt] Hankins, is a game time decision going into Saturday. If he doesn’t play you have a true freshman replacing him.

Tell me about the offense this year. With Akrum Wadley moving on to the NFL, who is the focal point of the offense? Is this team built like usual Iowa teams through the Offensive Line and the running game?

Yeah primarily, and it’s weird because instead of having just one dominant running back like Wadley, it’s been three guys that have rotated: Ivory Kelly-Martin, Toren Young, Mekhi Sargent. They all give Iowa different looks: Sargent is a small quick guy, Toren Young is more of a power runner who is going to run over you and Kelly-Martin is a combination of those two. Iowa’s tight ends, obviously, that’s a huge part of this offense for Iowa with Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. That’s where the QB Nate Stanley has looked, much more than to his receivers.

How has Nate Stanley progressed since Gophers fans saw him last year?

He had a good junior year. I think there were a lot of expectations for him coming into the season. His first two or three games he was not great, he was missing some throws and had timing issues all around. He just wasn’t making plays. I thought he was good against Wisconsin and he was really good against Northern Iowa the week before. He seems to have gotten his footing back under him. He can make all the throws, there’s no question about that. I think Iowa’s weakness is [their] wide receivers, they don’t have dominant receivers and I think that always plays a part in [what] a quarterback does.

Best player on offense?

Noah Fant

Best player on defense?

A.J. Epenesa

Most ‘under-the-radar’ player?

T.J. Hockenson

Hawkeyes season record prediction?

10-2

Score prediction?

Iowa 24-17