Physical vs. Physical in Minneapolis
Sept. 24, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Moments after the University of Iowa's 59-3 victory against Western Michigan on Sept. 21, Hawkeye linebacker James Morris bemoaned that after four games, no team had `pinned their ears back and run at us.'
That could change Saturday when Iowa opens the Big Ten Conference season at Minnesota. The Gophers have run the ball 197 times, third-most in the league behind Iowa (218) and Nebraska (202).
"(Minnesota is) a physical football team," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "They're a little bit different with the quarterback situation now, and then they are running the ball really well."
For the Gophers at quarterback, freshman Mitch Leidner stepped in for Philip Nelson last week and ran for 151 yards and four touchdowns during a 43-24 win against San Jose State. In four games, Leidner has carried the ball for 251 yards and five touchdowns and completed 12-of-20 passes for 176 yards.
Minnesota has run the ball 38, 43, 49, and 67 times in the first four outings.
To Ferentz, the 2013 Minnesota team reminds him of the 2010 Northern Illinois team he saw on film. Then, the Huskies were coached by Jerry Kill, who is now head coach for Minnesota.
Iowa won last year's meeting, 31-13, but the Gophers have prevailed in the only two games played in TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota won 27-24 in 2010 and 22-21 in 2011.
"Part of that is credit to them, but part of the blame lies at our feet, too," Ferentz said. "If we play like we did the last two times, we're not going to win the game, I'll make that prediction right now."
Ferentz continues to emphasize that in college football, every game is important. Things are magnified for the Hawkeyes and Gophers in Week 5 because it is not only a conference opener, but a Legends Division opener as well.
"The key is to take care of business week to week," Ferentz said. "Every game is so important because you only get 12 cracks and now being in conference play, divisional play, that amps it up even more. Every game is important on your resume. It's the nature of the beast when you only play 12."
With such a physical game looming, line play could be crucial. Ferentz said his troops are "gaining ground, but this will be a big test for us."
Minnesota's interior offensive line averages 311.4 pounds, compared to 300 for the Hawkeyes. On the defensive line, Iowa has an edge by an average of 13 pounds per head. The largest of the Gophers on defense is senior nose guard Ra'Shede Hageman at 6-foot-6, 311 pounds.
"They've turned into a good outfit," Ferentz said of the Minnesota lines. "They're reaping the benefits."
Special teams play by the Hawkeyes received compliments three days after they returned two punts for touchdowns, averaged 32.5 yards per kickoff return, and limited Western Michigan to 18.7 yards per kickoff return.
"I think we're moving forward, that was one of the good things about Saturday beyond the returns," Ferentz said. "We're not there yet, but at least we're starting to make some strides. That was a big concern a couple weeks ago."
Iowa and Minnesota meet for the 107th time in football Saturday. The game will begin at 2:36 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ABC with reverse mirror on ESPN2. The announcers are Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards.