Sept. 29, 2012
The University of Iowa football team stormed out to a 24-0 halftime en route to handing Minnesota its first loss with a 31-13 Homecoming victory Saturday afternoon inside Kinnick Stadium.
The win improves the Hawkeyes' record to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Big Ten Conference play; the Golden Gophers fall to 4-1 overall and 0-1 in league play.
"The credit goes to our players, they did a great job coming to the game ready to play, and played really well in all three phases, particularly in the first half," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. "Today is one of those days where it finally felt like we were working in all areas together. When that happens, that's a good thing."
Iowa made a first-half statement, storming out to a 24-0 lead and outgaining Minnesota, 328-75. For the game, the Hawkeyes finished with a balanced 374 yards of total offense with 182 on the ground and 192 through the air.
"Clearly in the first half, that is the best 30 minutes of football that we've played," said Ferentz. "Second half wasn't terrible, but the first 30 minutes is what we're looking for."
The UI defense forced four Minnesota turnovers and limited the Gophers to 299-yards of total offense, 103 below its season average (402). The final turnover -- an interception by junior Christian Kirksey -- put an exclamation point on the victory, as the linebacker returned the pick 68 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 31-7.
Sophomore running back Mark Weisman had 177 yards -- 8.4 per attempt -- on 21 carries with a touchdown. Weisman has gone over the 100-yard mark in each of the last three games. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg completed 18-of-31 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown, while senior Keenan Davis had six catches for 50 yards.
"After one game, you're kind of like hmmm... hope I am seeing it right," said Ferentz of Weisman. "Then after two weeks, you start thinking, this guy might not be bad. After three games, a lot of us are starting to think maybe this guy is a running back. His fullback days may be numbered... he may be retiring from that spot."
Junior Anthony Hitchens finished with 12 tackles to go along with a sack to lead the UI defense. He has posted double digit tackle totals in the last four games. Junior James Morris had 10 stops, and senior Greg Castillo and sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat both had seven tackles. Kirksey had five tackles to go along with the interception and a third-quarter fumble recovery.
Minnesota quarterback Max Shortell completed 20-of-33 attempts for 197 yards with two touchdowns to three interceptions. Shortell also paced the Gophers with 46 yards rushing.
Iowa started the game with a six-play, 49-yard scoring drive on its opening possession. It was the fifth straight week the team has scored on its first drive. On second and 9 from the 26-yard line, Vandenberg found junior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz streaking down the seam for a 45-yard gain to the Minnesota 26. After the drive stalled, junior Mike Meyer connected on a 44-yard field goal -- his ninth consecutive make -- giving the Hawkeyes the 3-0 edge.
The Hawkeye defense forced the game's first turnover on the Gophers' first possession. On first and 10 from the 31, junior Tanner Miller came down with an interception on Shortell's underthrow to wide receiver A.J. Barker on the Iowa sideline. The play was initially ruled out of bounds, but was overturned by instant replay.
After both teams traded punts for four straight possessions, the Hawkeyes took over on their own 16-yard line and drove 84 yard on six plays to take a 10-0 lead. On second and 11 from the 15, Weisman rumbled for a 27-yard gain to the 42. He followed with a 44-yard gain on the same play to move into the red zone. Three plays later, the sophomore scored on an 8-yard rush on a double tight end formation, following a seal block by sophomore Ray Hamilton.
The Iowa defense capitalized on a Gopher mental mistake to set up the third score. Minnesota returner Troy Stoudermire returned a kickoff from 6-yards deep in his end zone to the 25, but it was nullified on an illegal block in the back penalty. The Hawkeyes followed by forcing a three-and-out, giving Iowa possession at the Gopher 47-yard line.
On the first play of the series, Weisman took a handoff, pitched it back to Vandenberg on the flea flicker, where Vandenberg found junior Jordan Cotton streaking -- with no one within 10 yards -- for the 47-yard score. The catch was Cotton's first career touchdown and gave the Hawkeyes a 17-0 lead.
After forcing Minnesota's second straight three-and-out, Iowa used a six-play, 52-yard drive to build a 24-0 advantage. On third-and-3 from near midfield, Vandenberg connected with Hamilton on a 20-yard gain on a naked boot to the 25. The Gophers showed corner blitz on the next play, so Vandenberg hooked up with Davis on a quick hitter. The senior made two guys miss before racing for a second 20-yard gain to the 5. Weisman's 4-yard rush moved the ball to the 1 before Vandenberg cross the goal line on a quarterback sneak.
Minnesota got on the scoreboard on its second possession of the second half, moving 79 yards over 10 plays. The Gophers converted a third-and-3 and a fourth-and-1, on the drive, the second of which was a 27-yard pitch-and-catch from Shortell to Mike Henry in the flat to move into the red zone. Two plays later, Shortell found Isaac Fruechte wide open on a 9-yard crossing route in the corner of the end zone, making the score 24-7.
Iowa forced its third turnover on the next Gopher possession. On third-and-14 from the 31, Shortell looked in the direction of wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tuft, but was picked off by UI senior Greg Castillo. It was Castillo's first career interception.
Shortell's third pick late in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Hawkeyes. After driving 39 yards to the Iowa 37, the Hawkeyes forced a fourth-and-6. Shortell targeted wide receiver Derrick Engel in space at the first down marker, but Kirksey stepped in for the interception and returned it 68 yards for the touchdown. The interception return for a score is the third longest in school history.
The Gophers drove 80 yards over 11 plays on its last series to make the score 31-13. The drive was capped off with 1-yard touchdown pass from Shortell to Drew Goodger with 41 seconds remaining. Minnesota missed its two-point conversion.
Iowa, which is idle next weekend, returns to action Oct. 13 at Michigan State.
"You don't want to go into a bye week off a loss, or back-to-back losses," said Ferentz. "We still have a lot of things we need to work on. With this team in particular, at this point in the season, it's (having a bye) is probably an advantage for us."