History might be on Gophers’ side this weekend against Iowa

by C.J. Spang

It’s been six years since the Minnesota football team beat Iowa, but the Gophers might have history on their side this time around.

The last time Minnesota beat the Hawkeyes was at home, in the final game of the season on Nov. 18, 2000, and it was a game the Gophers had to win to become bowl eligible.

Minnesota finds itself in the exact same position as it hosts Iowa at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Metrodome, needing to win its final game in order to make its seventh bowl game in eight years.

Coach Glen Mason said it will be the biggest game in the country, even though No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan collide later that day.

“I could care less who wins that Ohio State/Michigan game,” he said. “Really, I’m not sure I’ll watch it. I’m going to be totally drained after our game because it’s Minnesota versus Iowa. Ö

“As far as I’m concerned, and I hope it’s indicative of how my coaching staff feels and every player on my team, there isn’t a bigger game in the country this week than this one right here.”

The game features two teams on two different paths.

The Hawkeyes (6-5 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) are bowl eligible despite losing three straight games and four consecutive conference games.

Senior quarterback Drew Tate has started the past two games for Iowa after sitting out the game against Northern Illinois due to an injury.

He lost both games, but passed for 147 yards against Northwestern and 223 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin last week. He’s second in the Big Ten in passing, averaging 221.7 yards per game.

The Gophers (5-6, 2-5), on the other hand, come in winners of two straight games, including a 63-26 thrashing of Indiana and a 31-18 comeback win over Michigan State last weekend.

Both of those games were must-wins for Minnesota’s bowl chances, just like this week.

As to whether or not the trip to a bowl game that is riding on this contest adds to the 100-year old rivalry between the two schools, a rivalry that has some Gophers fans chanting “We hate Iowa” weeks before the actual game, junior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright says it does.

“It adds a lot,” he said. “We don’t want to go home for Christmas break, so we want to go in and here and play up to our best abilities.”

Playing up to the best of its abilities would equate to Minnesota having a repeat performance of its past couple of games in which everything has been clicking for the Gophers.

Against the Hoosiers it was all about the offense, as Minnesota put up 63 points and 541 yards of total offense.

Against the Spartans it was all about the defense, as the Gophers forced three turnovers and held Michigan State to just three yards rushing.

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito said that kind of effort is what it’s going to take to give Minnesota a chance to win.

“If we play like we did the past two weeks, we have a chance,” he said. “I can’t guarantee we’re going to win or lose by any score; we just got to play well and hopefully have a chance to win.”

Sophomore linebacker Deon Hightower talked about the faith he has in his teammates, something that coaches and teammates have been talking about ever since the win over Indiana.

“I know they’re going to be ready to play, they’re my teammates and I believe in them,” he said. “And I know what they’re capable of and they know what the defense is capable of and everyone has to bring their ‘A’ game and play well. History is on our side and my teammates are on my side, so I feel like we have a good chance of winning.”