Game 4 Preview: Iowa
So far 2012 has been a continuation in a string of disappointments for Iowa football. Just a few years ago, in 2009, Kirk Ferentz oversaw an Iowa squad that rushed out of the gates to a 9-0 (5-0) record with an average margin of victory of nearly 10 points. They scored quality wins over #9 Penn State, #16 Wisconsin and despite a two game swoon with back-to-back losses to Northwestern and #5 Ohio State, they rebounded to win their conference finale and vault themselves to the Orange Bowl.
The following year Iowa took a step back with a 8-5 (4-4) record and a shocking loss to Minnesota under interim head coach Jeff Horton. 2011 proved to be more of the same with a 7-6 (4-4) record and yet another surprising loss to an undermanned and outmatched Gophers team.
Iowa closed out their 2011 schedule with losses in 4 of their last 6 games and only the Gophers game was competitive. #17 Michigan State, #21 Nebraska and #14 Oklahoma beat them by a combined 88-42, raising questions for a 2012 team that would have to cope without star receiver Marvin McNutt and long-time defensive coordinator Norm Parker.
Iowa’s 2012 out of conference schedule was heavily tilted in their favor with four home games to enter the season against Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Central Michigan.
CORRECTION: Iowa’s game against Northern Illinois was a neutral site game played in Chicago.
The results have not been what anyone expected.
Senior QB James Vendenberg struggled against Northern Illinois throwing for just 129 yards through the air on 33 attempts (2.9). If college football factored sack yardage into passing yards, as it should, that average would drop to just 3.15 yards per attempt. Iowa did escape with a 1 point victory but they’ve done little else since to impress.
Through four games Vandenberg has thrown a lone touchdown pass, in a loss against Central Michigan, and the only team that hasn’t looked competitive at times against them has been Northern Iowa who play their home games on something called Mondoturf.
At 2-2 entering conference play and staring down one of the hardest conference schedules in the Big Ten Saturday’s game with Minnesota borders on a must win if they want to have any hope of making a bowl game.
Minnesota Offense vs Iowa Defense
With the Galloping Ginger under center Minnesota’s offense will look drastically different than the rush heavy offense that took home the pig in 2012. On that day Gray compiled 255 all purpose yards and led the Gophers on two late scoring drives to shock Iowa despite being outgained 446 to 371.
In 2011 Gray threw the ball only 17 times while Shortell should be expected to throw the ball in the neighborhood of 30 times Saturday against Iowa. Iowa’s defense is not the unit it once was, but Phil Parker should be expected to bring a variety of different coverage looks in an attempt to confuse Shortell.
Third down conversions will be a key point for Minnesota’s offense. On third downs against Syracuse Shortell completed just 3 passes on 10 drop backs with 9 pass attempts and 1 sack. Relying on the run game to convert third-and-medium plays as they did at times against Syracuse against an Iowa team that’s held opponents to a full yard fewer per rush attempt than Syracuse.
Iowa is blitzing much more than usual this season with 4 of their 9 sacks coming from the second level and it will be incumbent upon Shortell to make the right pre-snap reads to recognize the blitz and get the ball out quickly when Parker brings pressure.
Minnesota Defense vs Iowa Offense
Although Minnesota hasn’t played much in the way of competition yet, their defensive line is playing at a higher level than they have in some time. D.L. Wilhite seems to have finally turned it on and both he and Ra’Shede Hageman are providing disruption and pressure from up front.
Iowa has again been struck by the angry HB God, sending a number of tailbacks out for the year with injury and leaving them with FB Mark Weisman as the primary ball carrier. Iowa will be the first true power rushing team Minnesota faces and they’ll look to blow Minnesota’s undersized line off the ball and control field position all day long.
Vandenberg is not a rushing threat so Minnesota’s problems with weak-side containment shouldn’t bite them against Iowa, but if they’re forced to commit resources to stopping Iowa’s power run game the secondary could have their hands full in man coverage against Iowa’s large and physical receivers.
And if there’s one thing Iowa does have going for it in the passing game it’s size:
|WR||Kevonte Martin-Manley||6’0″ 205lbs||SO|
|WR||Keenan Davis||6’3″ 215lbs||SR|
|WR||Jacob Hillyer||6’4″ 205lbs||FS (RS)|
|WR||Steven Staggs||6’3″ 195lbs||SR|
|WR||Tevaun Smith||6’2″ 190lbs||FR|
|TE||C.J. Fiedorowicz||6’7″ 265lbs||JR|
|TE||Ray Hamilton||6’5″ 248lbs||SO|
Minnesota has only one player in their starting secondary, Sophomore safety Derrick Wells, that stands 6’0″ or greater and Iowa could present serious matchup challenges.
Minnesota will have to control the LOS and avoid being blown off the ball while minimizing how often they bring the safeties into the box. As a FB Weisman isn’t a huge threat at the second level, but his hard running combined with the blocking of a huge group of receivers and TEs could be trouble.
The Gophers should focus on controlling the line and keeping Weisman in check. Once they do that Iowa’s line has not shown great ability to keep Vandenberg upright.
Unit vs Unit
So far Jerry Kill has won a single road game in his time as Gophers head coach, a 30-27 3OT win against UNLV to open this season, in his other 5 road games he’s been outscored 181-71, or an average of three TDs and change per game. Minnesota hasn’t won a game in Iowa City since 1999 going 0-5 since then and being outscored by 15.4 points per game.
Iowa also hasn’t lost back to back games at Kinnick since 1999.
Minnesota will be heading into a hostile environment unlike anything they’ve seen since last year’s 58-0 debacle in Ann Arbor. Iowa is not a very good football team but if Shortell is dazzled early like he was against Michigan Iowa could run away early.
Ultimately Iowa’s flaws run too deep for this to be likely and all signs point to a low scoring game.
FJK Prediction: Minnesota 12 – Iowa 9