Minnesota aims to thwart Buckeyes’ bowl plans

Anthony Maggio

Ron Johnson has two games left in his Minnesota tenure. He already owns Gophers career records in receiving yards, receptions, and touchdown catches.

But, along with his team, Johnson has been coming up short lately. Minnesota has lost its last two Big Ten games to drop out of bowl contention and Johnson hasn’t caught a second half pass in the last three conference games.

To defeat Iowa (5-4, 3-4 Big Ten) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday and retain Floyd of Rosedale, the Gophers (3-6, 1-5) must get the ball to Johnson in the second half.

“He’s a big threat on this offense, and a lot of time when he’s not having a good day, usually we’re not having a good day,” quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “So we have to incorporate a lot of things for Ron and get him the ball more.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has seen first hand what Johnson can do to his defense.

“Johnson killed us last year,” Ferentz said. “He’s an excellent player at wide receiver.”

Last season, Johnson was key in Minnesota’s comeback victory over Iowa at the Metrodome. He caught seven passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, one on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter.

Johnson becomes even more critical this year, as Iowa has turned its program around after a few disappointing seasons.

“I think our guys are really hustling and playing hard,” Ferentz said. “We’re not the most athletic group and we probably play a little bit more athletic than we really are.”

The biggest reason for the Hawkeyes’ turnaround this season has been their defense.

Iowa rushing defense is second in the Big Ten, allowing 122 yards per contest. The Hawkeyes are also second in both pass defense and total defense.

The spark plug of Iowa’s defense is sophomore defensive back Bob Sanders. Minnesota coach Glen Mason compares him to former Gophers safety Tyrone Carter. Sanders started three games last season and Ferentz gives him credit for the defensive turnaround.

“I think when Bob went in there the toughness and the intensity he played with was contagious to our defensive football team,” Ferentz said.

Minnesota faced a tough run defense in Michigan last week, and gets little relief in Iowa City.

Even when Iowa was 3-9 last season, it gave Minnesota’s rushing game problems. The Gophers averaged 196.9 rushing yards a game last season but the Hawkeyes held them to 142 yards.

“I didn’t even have a hundred yards that game,” running back Tellis Redmon said. “They were ready for us against the run. This year the job will be hard, but we’ve just got to execute.”

Despite Iowa’s poor record over the last three seasons, Mason is not surprised the Hawkeyes are making a name for themselves this season.

“With the players they had coming back, I really thought (the Hawkeyes) were a team to watch this year,” Mason said. “If there was such thing as a dark horse, it was Iowa.”

Now the Hawkeyes are in position to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since a Sun Bowl appearance in 1997.

Just as last season when the Gophers needed a win over Iowa to make a bowl game, the Hawkeyes would clinch a bowl berth with a victory over Minnesota.

If the Gophers want to play spoiler on Saturday and hang on to the bronze pig that has made its home the last three years in the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, they must go back to what beat the Hawkeyes last season ñ throwing to Ron Johnson.

Academic all-star

Minnesota sophomore Dan Kwapinski was named to the 2001 Verizon District V Academic All-America football team on Thursday. Kwapinski, a biology major, has a cumulative grade point average of 3.55. He has started all nine games at defensive tackle, recording 18 tackles this season.

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]