Battle of running games in Iowa

Matt Perkins

It’s no secret that Minnesota’s football team’s key to offensive success this season has been the running game.

The Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) have outrushed their opponents in eight of 10 games this season, failing to do so only in losses to Penn State and Ohio State.

This weekend, Minnesota matches up against an Iowa team that has been outrushed only once this season, when Ohio State outgained the Hawkeyes 314-9 in a 31-6 win Sept. 24.

So it’s more than likely that Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, which airs at 11 a.m. on ESPN2, will be won on the ground.

However, last season Minnesota rushed for 337 yards to Iowa’s 6 in a 29-27 loss at home for the Gophers.

The difference this season?

Hawkeyes sophomore running back Albert Young.

It’s highly unlikely the Gophers will hold Iowa to 6 yards rushing with Young in the backfield.

“They had some troubles last year,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.

“They were doing whatever they possibly could to get a running back last year; they have a legitimate guy this year.”

Young has rushed for 100 yards in six consecutive games. The Gophers didn’t get a chance to see Young in action last season, and his presence this time around could change the way the game plays out.

“Last year a lot of Iowa’s running backs were gone and they were probably on their fourth string,” senior defensive end Keith Lipka said. “They’ll probably be running the ball a lot more and so it should be an interesting game.”

That’s interesting because last year Iowa quarterback Drew Tate had to carry the offensive load for a Hawkeyes team that couldn’t manage anything on the ground. Tate was 24-of-39 passing for 333 yards and two touchdowns.

Tate helped bail out a depleted backfield last season, but this year they are getting it done on the ground, averaging 179.6 yards rushing per game.

Despite Iowa’s rushing success, it has struggled to a 6-4 mark this season, 4-3 in the Big Ten.

But the record doesn’t mean Minnesota will take the Hawkeyes lightly.

“You look at people’s records, but when you start watching them on film, the record becomes secondary,” Mason said. “They are a good football team.”

Minnesota must feel the same, averaging a nation-best 295 yards rushing per game, with only a 7-3 record to show for it.

But a win at Iowa means an eight-win season for the Gophers that would include road victories at Michigan and Iowa, something they feel justifies any big bowl expectations.

“We’ve had a good season this year, but an eighth win would put us over the hump,” running back Laurence Maroney said. “If we win our last three (games), hopefully we’ll go to a good bowl game. Hopefully having an eighth win will be part of the consideration.”