Minnesota lacks strong pass rush

Minnesota ranks 108th in the nation with six sacks in the 2013 season.

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'shede Hageman moves to tackle a Hawkeye on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’shede Hageman moves to tackle a Hawkeye on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.

Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers haven’t recorded a sack since the fourth quarter of their Sept. 14 win over Western Illinois. But head coach Jerry Kill said that doesn’t reflect the team’s pass-rushing ability.

“We had a good pass rush at times [against Iowa],” Kill told reporters Sunday. “We had pressure on them. It wasn’t the pass rush. It was [Iowa’s quarterback] stepping up in the pocket and scrambling.”

But through five games this season, the pass rush has been virtually nonexistent. Minnesota ranks 108th in the nation with six sacks this year.

The team’s struggles were magnified Saturday against Iowa’s physical offensive line.

Iowa gashed Minnesota’s defensive front for 246 yards. The Gophers struggled to pressure Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock, who threw for 218 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Rudock also rushed five times for 35 yards and a touchdown, including a critical 22-yard scramble on third down early in the third quarter.

Iowa’s quick-throw offense made it difficult to pressure Rudock, Kill said.

“You could put pressure on him and make him step up, which we did,” Kill said, “but we didn’t do a good job at linebacker at times.”

The Gophers’ defensive line returned all its key contributors from last season’s roster, except D.L. Wilhite, the team leader in sacks last year. It also boasts a potential first-round draft pick in redshirt senior Ra’Shede Hageman.

But the group of returners has been largely ineffective this year, a problem redshirt junior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said can be attributed to a lack of execution.

“That comes down to the individual players out there on the field,” he said. “And that’s something we’re going to work on and continue to work on and have worked on in the three years that I’ve been here.”

The Gophers had one successful pass rush Saturday, but the play resulted in an Iowa touchdown.

Minnesota sent the house on a first down late in the second quarter. Rudock flipped a screen pass to receiver Damond Powell, who ran into the end zone untouched.

“They caught us in a situation where they executed perfectly, and they got us knocked down,” Kill said.

Third-down struggles

Iowa was 8-for-14 on third downs Saturday and 5-for-7 in the second half.

It converted three third-and-longs on a 15-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter.

“They executed on third down, and we didn’t,” Kill said.

Minnesota only converted four of its 13 third downs Saturday. It completed about 47 percent of its third downs in its first four games.