Ground game goes bankrupt in Iowa

Anthony Maggio

IOWA CITY ñ Minnesota’s football team entered Saturday’s game against Iowa ranked ninth nationally in rushing at 230 yards per game.

However, the Gophers left Kinnick Stadium with only 107 rushing yards and without a bronze pig after being drubbed 42-24 by the Hawkeyes.

“We knew that we could come out and stop the run,” Iowa defensive back Bob Sanders said. “And they did everything we expected them to do.”

The Gophers’ running game has been the most consistent facet this season, but it’s the consistency that ultimately killed Minnesota.

“They do some things and do them well,” Iowa linebacker Mike Dolezal said. “But they don’t change things up a lot, so we knew what they were going to do coming in to the game.”

Predictability on offense is the last thing the slumping Gophers (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) need going into the final game of the season versus Wisconsin. Last weekend, the Badgers turned in their top
defensive performance of the year holding Michigan (6-1, 8-2) to just 163 yards of total offense, while totaling eight tackles for loss.

Wisconsin held the Wolverines to 107 yards on 35 carries, the rushing statistics tallied by Minnesota against Iowa.

The Badgers are sixth in the Big Ten giving up 166.3 rushing yards per game.

On Saturday, the Hawkeyes consistently filled gaps, outmaneuvered linemen and pushed back the line of scrimmage while holding the Gophers to their worst rushing
output since the first week of the season against Toledo, when Minnesota had 103 yards on the ground.

Minnesota carried the ball 35 times, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. The Gophers lost yardage on eight attempts.

Sanders and defensive lineman Aaron Kampman ñ who had three tackles for a loss ñ agreed Minnesota’s run game is
predictable, yet coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t necessarily pleased with his team’s defense.

“I don’t think we were sharp on the line,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t tackle as well as we’ve been
tackling. I can’t tell you why, maybe it’s just one of those days, but we need to do a little bit better of a job up front.”

Nevertheless, Minnesota was unable to gain momentum on the ground Saturday. Iowa held the Gophers to just 14 yards on their first eight carries spanning two possessions.

The Gophers’ only minimal success running the ball came on their third possession, when Minnesota picked up 35 yards on 10 carries, but came up with only a field goal.

Marion Barber III led the team with 53 rushing yards. Tellis Redmon, who entered the game averaging 105 yards per contest, ended with 19 yards.

The Hawkeyes were successful in last season’s contest with the Gophers as well, holding Minnesota to 142 yards on the ground. This year, they focused even more on the run game in practice ñ and it showed on the field.

“That’s where our defense starts,” Ferentz said. “We have to try to stop the running game. If a team can run the football on you successfully and at will, it’s going to be tough to be successful. So that’s something that we start with
philosophically.”

As a result, the Gophers became one-dimensional early and didn’t gain momentum until they were down 32 points in the fourth quarter.

“They’re tough versus the run and we knew that going in,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.

Minnesota must make some adjustments on the ground if it wants to bring home Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 1994, because the difference last Saturday was Iowa’s defensive preparation ñ and Minnesota’s predictability.

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]