Vulnerable Iowa coming to town for U football finale

by Michael Dougherty

The Gophers football team is a touchdown favorite over Iowa (3-7, 2-5 in the Big Ten), an indication of how far the Hawkeyes have fallen in one year rather than a compliment to the improvement of Minnesota.
The Gophers (4-5, 1-6) had their bowl hopes miss wide right when kicker Adam Bailey missed two extra points and two short field goals in the 20-19 loss to Indiana Saturday.
Iowa, meanwhile, is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and its running game ranks dead last in the conference at 80.4 yards a game.
Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry said things can change quickly in a year, especially considering his team finished the 1997 season ranked first in the Big Ten in rushing offense (217 yards per game) and scoring offense (34.3 points per game).
The free fall in the running game can be blamed mostly on the graduation of Tavian Banks, who was the Big Ten offensive MVP last season when he led the conference in rushing with 1,691 yards and 17 touchdowns. Banks was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round.
This year, however, Fry has watched injuries decimate his quarterback position, with three different players starting two games each under center.
“It’s just been a nightmare,” Fry said of this injury-plagued season. “It’s without a question the most frustrating year.”
But when you’re the fourth winningest active coach in Division I football with a career record of 232-177-10 record in 37 years as a head coach, a year like this is bound to be called a nightmare.
With the difficulties of coaching an underachieving team, Fry said the three men above him on the all-time win list might stay there.
“I’ve always said it would be nice to be able to coach to (age) 70,” Fry said. “(Penn State’s Joe) Paterno, (Florida State’s Bobby) Bowden and (Brigham Young’s) Lavell Edwards and those guys are trying to outlive me, and of course having a year like I’ve had with a young ball club and those guys getting hurt — it’s been a real long year.”
Fry, who turns 70 in February, has said an announcement will be made on his future next week.
Welcoming Fry and his limping bunch to the Metrodome on Saturday is Gophers coach Glen Mason, who watched his squad jump out to a 3-0 record before losing six of the next seven.
After the heartbreaking loss to the Hoosiers, Mason said getting the players to properly focus on Iowa and forget about the Indiana game will be easier than getting coaches to do the same.
“Normally players bounce back a lot quicker than coaches,” he said.
Fry called Minnesota “one of the most improved football teams in the Big Ten,” adding the Gopher defense is “unbelievable.”
“They have that little guy — No. 22, Tyrone Carter — who may be as interesting to watch as any player I’ve ever seen in the Big Ten,” Fry said.
Carter’s play (148 tackles and a school record 119 solo so far this season) has been a big part of the Gophers’ defensive improvement. In last season’s 31-0 Hawkeyes win in Iowa City, Carter recorded a school record 23 tackles.
That Minnesota loss was the fifth in a row to Iowa, and the Hawkeyes have outscored the Gophers by an average of more than 23 points in those games.
Gophers linebacker Parc Williams, who along with 16 other seniors will play his last game for Minnesota, is part of a defense that is likely salivating at the chance to sack Iowa quarterback Kyle McCann. The Hawkeyes have given up 44 sacks, tied with the Gophers for most in the conference.
When asked about the emotional difficulties of playing this last game with no bowl game on the line, Williams stayed true to his stoic persona.
“A lot of it is for pride,” he said. “There are still things to fight for and things to do that haven’t been done around here in a bunch of years like winning five games and two Big Ten games.”