Gophers defense’s early struggles lead to loss against Iowa

Despite only allowing three points in the second half, an abysmal first half from the defense doomed the Gophers.

Defensive back Coney Durr chases after a receiver at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Nov. 16. Iowa defeated the Gophers 23-19 ending their winning streak and bringing their record to 9-1.

Parker Johnson

Defensive back Coney Durr chases after a receiver at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Nov. 16. Iowa defeated the Gophers 23-19 ending their winning streak and bringing their record to 9-1.

John Miller

After beating Penn State at home last week, the Minnesota Gophers looked like a shell of themselves at the start of the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. 

“This game hit us in the mouth,” said senior linebacker Thomas Barber. “Usually we’re the ones hitting in the mouth first.” 

The defense was the main culprit. Missed tackles and soft coverage allowed Iowa’s offense to knife through the Gophers like a tender prime rib.

“It was tackles, it was setting the edge and setting the edge properly with technique,” head coach P.J. Fleck said after game. “We tackled poorly.”

Minnesota’s defense came into the game ranked No. 15 in total yards per game, only giving up 309.8 yards. Iowa accrued 221 yards by the time the first half was over. Iowa had a 20-3 halftime lead, and it was too much to come back from as they lost 23-19.

“We put ourselves in a really tough hole being down so early,” Fleck said after the game.

It was a tale of two halves for the defense. 

Iowa received the ball to start the game, and the offense immediately started with their guns blazing, wasting no time before they found they end zone. The Hawkeyes only needed a little over three minutes on an eight-play 75-yard drive that was capped off by senior quarterback Nate Stanley finding redshirt freshman wide receiver Nico Ragaini for a 21-yard touchdown pass. A missed extra point held the Hawkeyes lead at six.

Minnesota had a chance to answer back, but on fourth-and-long in Hawkeye territory, Minnesota decided to trot backup kicker and redshirt freshman Brock Walker out for a 50-yard field goal. He missed, giving Iowa’s offense a good field position that they capitalized on, going 68 yards for another score to extend the lead to 13-0. 

Taking five and a half minutes off the clock, Iowa’s offense leaned on freshman running back Tyler Goodson who ran for 45 of the 68 yards on the drive. He would go on to score on a 10-yard rushing touchdown. 

After a Minnesota field goal, the third drive of the game for the Iowa offense had the same result as drives one and two. Nate Stanley accounted for 56 of Iowa’s 69 yards to drive the Hawkeyes down for a touchdown. Stanley found junior wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a five-yard touchdown pass, giving the Hawkeyes a 20-3 lead. 

“Defensively we started out to slow and you can’t do that in the Big Ten,” Barber said.

Minnesota’s defense regrouped at halftime and shut the Hawkeyes down on their next two drives. After Minnesota scored to start the second half, Iowa’s offense looked to be on the verge of sustaining those first two drives for points. However, Minnesota finally dialed up the pressure on Stanley. The first drive of the second half for the Hawkeyes ended on Gopher’s sophomore defensive lineman Boye Mafe’s sack. The second drive ended with a sack from redshirt freshman linebacker Braelen Oliver.

“We slowed them down eventually, but like I said you can’t wait until the second half,” said Barber.

Despite numerous opportunities the defense allowed the offense in the second half, the Gophers did not answer. Minnesota’s defense allowed 69 yards and three points in the final 30 minutes of play. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi made the right adjustments to shut down Iowa, but it was too little too late. 

“We felt like we were going to have put some more pressure on him, be able to get the ball out of his hand a lot more, be able to create some negative plays and we were able to do that,” Fleck said about their game-plan in the second half to stop Stanley. “I think we adjusted just a little bit too late. We let the game plan go.”

Despite the loss and poor performance, the Gophers are 9-1 and sit atop the Big Ten West. 

“Obviously disappointed in our performance,” Barber said. “We know we have a lot more at stake still, so we still control our destiny.”