Gophers look to upset Hawkeyes

Minnesota comes in as the underdog for the second-straight year.

Senior D.J. Burris, left, and Junior Brandon Kirksey hold up the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after their win against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium. It was the Gopher’s first trophy win since 2006.

Joe Michaud-Scorza, Daily File Photo

Senior D.J. Burris, left, and Junior Brandon Kirksey hold up the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after their win against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium. It was the Gopher’s first trophy win since 2006.

Adam Richard

Minnesota will host the Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said that he has seen progress in his football program and he also praised IowaâÄôs.

âÄúIowa is about as fundamental a football program as youâÄôre going to see. Those guys have been coaching a long time [and] been together a long time,âÄù Kill said.

Although Minnesota has been destroyed by its Big Ten opponents so far this year, it has some reason for optimism. The Gophers are not strangers to being the underdog versus Iowa.

Last year, the Hawkeyes ranked 24th in the nation when the Gophers beat them 27-24, after which hundreds of fans stormed the field.

This year, Iowa boasts a 5-2 overall record, but has yet to win a game on the road. Its statistics donâÄôt show a large discrepancy from those of the Gophers.

Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray rushed for a touchdown last year in the win against Iowa. He started at wide receiver in that game and had three catches for 33 yards as well as eight rushes for 39 yards.

âÄúI remember the last drive. I remember the bomb to DaâÄôJon [McKnight],âÄù Gray said. âÄúOverall, the best part was just seeing everyone run over to the sideline and grab the pig, the whole stadium coming down on the field. That was the best part of that day,âÄù Gray said.

This year he will try to influence the game again, not just as a rusher, but as a passer as well.

The numbers indicate that there is an opportunity for Gray to take advantage of the Iowa defense with his arm. Iowa has given up more than 1,700 yards passing this year, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten.

Gray has not had much success in the vertical pass game this season but he said he remains optimistic.

âÄúI feel like IâÄôm getting more comfortable week-in, week-out. As many reps as IâÄôm getting, I feel confident with my offense, back in the pocket; my ability to make plays. I feel more confident every week,âÄù Gray said.

Minnesota was picked apart by Nebraska at its homecoming, but showed some improvements in its game.

The GophersâÄô defense did not seem intimidated and displayed its strongest effort, but fell to penalties and mental mistakes.

That attitude will have to continue, sans the mistakes, for Minnesota to have a chance to beat the Hawkeyes.

âÄúIt gets frustrating, the part of the mistakes, but they are getting fewer and weâÄôre getting better,âÄù defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.

Linebacker Keanon Cooper had a cast removed from his forearm and led the team with 12 tackles last week against Nebraska. Kill said Cooper played much better than in previous weeks.

Kill also praised senior safety Kim Royston at TuesdayâÄôs press conference. Royston had another double-digit tackle effort against Nebraska and leads the Gophers in tackles this year.

Kill rattled off the names of numerous players that he has been impressed with as far as their growth. Freshman defensive end Ben Perry is one of those players.

âÄúEven though the season may not be going the way we want, weâÄôre going to make sure weâÄôre intense, stay intense, and weâÄôre going to keep fighting intense and hopefully things turn around,âÄù Perry said.

He added about the upcoming Iowa game, âÄúI have no plans of giving away that pig. I want to keep it.âÄù

MinnesotaâÄôs defense will be tasked with stopping IowaâÄôs big bruising tailback, Marcus Coker. Coker, who is 6-foot-2-inches and 230 pounds, has eight touchdowns and more than 700 yards this season.

The HawkeyesâÄô running offense, however, has been completely dependent on Coker since freshman MikaâÄôil McCall went down with a foot injury. The rushing unit is ranked 10th in the Big Ten with only 143 yards per game. McCall was recently cleared medically to play.

âÄúThereâÄôs a big difference being cleared medically and really being able to play,âÄù Ferentz said.

The potentially more dangerous aspect of SaturdayâÄôs matchup is the Iowa passing game. Junior quarterback James Vandenberg leads the passing attack and has 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions.

Vandenberg is helped by two of the taller receivers in the Big Ten in Marvin McNutt (6âÄô4âÄù) and Keenan Davis (6âÄô3âÄù). Both rank in the top 10 in the conference in yards, yards per reception and touchdowns.

 Minnesota improved its pass defense last week, allowing a completion rate of 60 percent.

 There has been a steady improvement in that area for the last four weeks and this was the unitâÄôs lowest completion rate allowed since its only win of the season against Miami (Ohio).

Minnesota running back David Cobb was back in full pads at practice this week and will attempt to return Saturday. He has missed time with an injured hamstring.

Sophomore offensive lineman Zach Mottla played center with the first team this week at practice and may potentially get his first start at center.

Minnesota has to fit all of these pieces together on both offense and defense in order to be competitive this week.