Gophers match up well

by Murali Balaji

With its bowl aspirations gone, the Gophers football team heads into this week’s game against Iowa playing for one thing: pride.
Gophers’ coach Glen Mason has preached cohesiveness to his team all season, and it will be interesting to see how they respond after last week’s heart-breaking loss to Indiana. Though it may be nothing more than hollow comfort to them, the Gophers will face an Iowa team crippled by injuries and hindered by overall ineffectiveness.
The game will have special significance to the Gophers’ seniors, most notably linebacker Parc Williams, kicker Adam Bailey, defensive tackle Antoine Richard and cornerback Craig Scruggs, who have started every game this season for the team.
“We haven’t beat Iowa since I’ve been here,” Richard said. “I want to beat them before I leave.”
A win would cap what has become a very solid rebuilding effort by Mason and could set the wheels in motion for more progress next season. A loss, on the other hand, could have fans wondering if the season was anything more than a failed pit stop.

Gophers on offense
The Gophers are coming off their most-balanced offensive performance of the season, racking up 341 yards against an Indiana defense ranked dead last in the Big Ten. Much of the offense’s success was due to running back Thomas Hamner’s consistency in finding and attacking holes.
“Thomas graded a winning performance,” Mason said. “He’s been providing consistent play for us all season.”
The Hawkeyes utilize a throwback defensive scheme, deploying five down linemen and two linebackers. Defensive tackle Jared DeVries, a probable high NFL draft pick next spring, is a disruptive force who moves around the line to create mismatches.
Look for DeVries to line up at one of the flank positions to create outside pressure against Gophers’ quarterback Billy Cockerham. Receivers Ron Johnson and Luke Leverson will need to get the better of Hawkeye corners Tarig Holman and Joe Slattery.
Key matchup: Leverson versus Holman.
Leverson’s production has slipped of late, due to frequent double-teams and mixed zone coverages by the opposition. However, he will need to have a big day against Holman, who hasn’t received his due as one of the better cover corners in the nation.
“Tarig, if he’s healthy, will match up pretty well against Minnesota’s receivers,” Iowa coach Hayden Fry said.

Gophers on defense
The Gophers’ defense, which was simply overmatched against a very fast Indiana offense and quarterback Antwaan Randle El, can rest easy against the Hawkeyes. Fry might have more problems at the quarterback spot than Mason does at Minnesota, meaning that the Gophers will look to unleash their blitz against the Iowa offense.
Quarterback Kyle McCann, whose production has been erratic in the games he has played in, should be the Gophers’ primary target. McCann, meanwhile, will look to get the ball to freshman threat Kahlil Hill (33 catches, 411 yards, two touchdowns), a lanky 6-foot-3 receiver with outstanding speed and athleticism.
Freshman running back Ladell Betts (650 yards) is a steady performer in the backfield, but the Gophers will look to keep him a non-factor by stacking the line against the run.
Key matchup: Gophers’ secondary versus Hill.
If Randle El wasn’t a lock for the Big Ten freshman of the year award, Hill would be next in line. In addition to his emergence as a weapon on offense, Hill has made his mark as an outstanding special teams player with three punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.
Hill will look to exploit the deep middle of the Gophers’ defense, which will once again include freshman safety Delvin Jones. Look for the Hawkeyes to try to isolate Hill against Jones or strong safety Tyrone Carter, who has had some trouble defending the pass all season.