Iowa in spoiler role vs. Gophers
IOWA CITY (AP) — After a bitter loss to Wisconsin, No. 23 Iowa has been reduced to playing spoiler in the Big Ten race.
The Hawkeyes have often excelled in that role in recent years.
Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) has thwarted the national title hopes of four different teams with late-season wins at Kinnick Stadium since 2008.
The Hawkeyes knocked Penn State out of the national title picture 11 years ago with a last-second field goal, and they blew out unbeaten and fifth-ranked Michigan State in Iowa City, 37-6, two years later. Iowa beat second-ranked Michigan as a 24-point underdog in 2016, and the following season the Hawkeyes blasted Ohio State, 55-24. That loss was widely cited as the reason the Buckeyes missed out on the College Football Playoff that year.
No. 7 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0) visits Iowa on Saturday,
A win over the Gophers wouldn’t be as shocking as those four victories. After all, the Hawkeyes are a 3-point favorite — and they haven’t lost to Minnesota at home since 1999.
But to do so, Iowa will need to find a way to finish after failing to do so in last weekend’s 24-22 loss to the Badgers.
“I think (you have to) just go out there and play like there’s nothing to lose,” senior quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Most of the pressure is on their shoulders…they’re the ones that control their own destiny. So, if we can just come out and play loose and really just give it all for 60 minutes, that’s all we can ask for.”
A win over the playoff-hopeful Gophers would also help erase some of the sting of a Big Ten season that’s fallen painfully short of expectations.
Iowa, which many had pegged as a favorite to win the Big Ten West in August, started 4-0 before suffering three losses to ranked teams by a total of just 14 points.
The Hawkeyes’ offense failed them in a 10-3 loss at Michigan and in a 17-12 defeat to Penn State to start October, and Stanley’s potential game-tying sneak on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter last week in Madison came up about a half a yard short.
“We’ve come up short now in three tough competitive ballgames, and you can be proud of that” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But to come up short, and coming close, is really not the goal.”
Minnesota, which has won five games by seven points or less, is rolling behind an offense that has put up at least 28 points in each of its first nine games for the first time in school history
Iowa hasn’t allowed more than 24 in a game all season. The Hawkeyes scoring defense (11.7 points per game) is the stingiest in coach Kirk Ferentz’s 21 seasons, and they are third nationally with just 12 touchdowns allowed. Iowa also ranks in the top 20 in yards through both the air and on the ground.
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was brilliant in last week’s win over Penn State, completing 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards. Given Iowa’s recent history as a spoiler, Morgan might have to play just as well against the Hawkeyes.
“Kinnick is a special place, and we’ve had some good success in there,” linebacker Nick Niemann said. “You want to be playing your best football in November.”