Iowa slips past Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS – When you’re playing for a pig, it doesn’t have to be pretty.
A timely touchdown run by Akrum Wadley and a defense which rose to the occasion combined Saturday to lead Iowa to a hard-fought, turnover-filled 14-7 victory over Minnesota.
The win allowed Iowa to retain possession of Floyd of Rosedale and when it was over, players carted the 98.3-pound bronze likeness of a hog around to celebrate with fans who watched the Hawkeyes win at TCF Bank Stadium for just the second time in five tries since 2010.
“One of our big things this year is to keep the trophy case full and we got that done,’’ said safety Brandon Snyder, who intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble to help the Hawkeyes craft one of their more dominating performances of the season.
“We knew we had to step up big on defense and make plays. We knew we had a job to do.’’
Nothing came easily in the knock-down drag-out border battle that Wadley decided when he busted loose for a 54-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the game.
“The line did a great job blocking, George Kittle hit the last man. I saw daylight and it was off to the races,’’ said Wadley, who collected more than half of his game-high 107 rushing yards on the touchdown run which erased a 7-6 lead Minnesota had held since the midpoint of the third quarter.
LeShun Daniels’ carry for the two-point conversion gave Iowa a 14-7 edge the defense held.
The Golden Gophers had three chances to rally, but were turned away each time by the Hawkeye defensive effort.
Minnesota went three-and-out on its possession after Iowa’s only touchdown of the game, turned the ball over on an interception by Snyder with 2:30 remaining and then did drive the ball to the Iowa 13-yard line before a false start penalty and four incompletions by senior quarterback Mitch Leidner put the ball back in the Hawkeyes’ hands for the final :43.
His final attempt in a 13-for-33 performance was knocked away from intended receiver Brian Smith in the end zone.
“That’s the way we like it, to have the game decided when the defense is on the field,’’ Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin said. “We like to have the final say.’’
Leidner, who had completed 72.1 percent of his passes against Iowa in two previous starts, found everything to be a struggle in his final outing against Iowa.
He didn’t complete a pass until the 4:14 mark of the second quarter after misfiring on his first six attempts.
Things weren’t going much better on the ground, where Minnesota finished with a season-low 102 yards on 29 carries against an Iowa defense which entered the game surrendering 182.2 yards per game.
“It was time to step up,’’ linebacker Bo Bower said. “We had to. We knew what type of game this would be. We had to take away what they like to do.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz liked the resiliency he saw from the Hawkeyes.
“The biggest thing on defense to me, we pressured the quarterback a little better and first and foremost we played the run better,’’ Ferentz said. “We haven’t been doing a great job with that this year and to be a good defense, you have to play the run successfully. I thought the guys really pulled that off today.’’
Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks, who led the Gophers with 55 yards and scored Minnesota’s only touchdown on a nine-yard carry in the third quarter, was in no position to disagree.
“It was a tough loss for us in a huge game we prepare years and years for, 365 days every year, a rivalry game, playing for the pig,’’ Brooks said. “We knew going in this would be a tough game.’’
Gophers coach Tracy Claeys felt the game was decided by the performance of the Iowa defensive line.
“I thought both defenses played really well and gave both teams a chance to win. We just didn’t get it done on offense,’’ Claeys said. “We got whipped up front.’’
In the typically physical border battle, both teams turned the ball over three times. Snyder recovered a fumble forced by Bower in the first quarter and freshman Manny Rugamba recorded his first career interception late in a first half which ended with Iowa on top 3-0.
The Hawkeyes, who missed an early 50-yard field goal attempted by Miguel Recinos, scored the only points of the opening half when Keith Duncan hit a 22-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Duncan hit from 28 yards to complete the opening drive of the second half, a 10-play, 60-yard march that opened with a 21-yard pass to Riley McCarron, who led Iowa (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) with six catches.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard hit 17-of-31 passes for 142 yards but was intercepted twice.
In both instances, as well as when McCarron fumbled following a catch early in the fourth quarter, the Iowa defense forced the Golden Gophers (3-2, 1-1) to go three and out.
“We rose to the occasion when we needed to,’’ linebacker Josey Jewell said. “We came here to make a statement and to keep the pig and we accomplished what we set out to do.’’