IOWA CITY, Iowa — The four-way tie at the top of the Big Ten’s West Division will start to unravel Saturday when No. 19 Iowa hosts Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) and Gophers (6-3, 4-2) are joined at the top by Wisconsin and Purdue. Minnesota is in a better position in the tiebreakers than Iowa right now. The Gophers have defeated Purdue and face Wisconsin to close the regular season; the Hawkeyes have losses to both those teams.
“Everybody in the West, those four teams, they control their own destiny,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “We talked about being in November, being in the hunt for a championship. And here we are, with 19 days left. That’s what we’ve said — every year, we want to be in that type of hunt.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he speaks regularly to his team about the importance of November.
“Just how important it is and that really is where teams get defined," he said. "That’s what (teams) get remembered by, typically.”
Both teams have had their recent struggles.
Minnesota split its first four games, then won four in a row before last Saturday’s 14-6 loss to Illinois.
The Gophers have lost running backs Mohamed Ibrahim, Trey Potts, Bryce Williams and Preston Jelen to season-ending injuries. True freshman Mar’Keise Irving and redshirt freshman Ky Thomas are getting most the carries now.
“Even with the playmakers we’ve lost, we’re still in the hunt,” Fleck said.
Iowa surged up the national rankings, reaching No. 2 after winning its first six games before falling back after a two-game skid that came to an end with last Saturday’s 17-12 win at Northwestern. The Hawkeyes still remain last in the Big Ten in total offense.
“It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of weeks for sure,” Ferentz said. “For us it’s pretty easy. Our focus has to be on what’s in front of us. It leads into this week certainly with Minnesota coming to town.”
SIZE UP FRONT
Iowa left defensive end Joe Evans might be feeling kind of small this week. He's 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds. He'll be matched against Minnesota right tackle Daniel Faalele, who is 6-9 and 380 pounds.
The depth and size of the Gophers’ offensive line concerns the Hawkeyes, especially when Minnesota uses six or seven offensive linemen in a “heavy” package.”
“I’m excited for the challenge,” Evans said. “They’ve got some big boys there.”
PADILLA AND PETRAS
Alex Padilla is listed as Iowa’s starting quarterback, but there’s a chance Spencer Petras could play.
Petras, who has started 17 games over two seasons, injured his right throwing shoulder late in the 27-7 loss at Wisconsin on Oct. 30. He threw just four passes, completing two, before being lifted from the game at Northwestern. Padilla finished, completing 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards and leading the Hawkeyes on their two touchdown drives.
“Alex is helping himself, or helped himself, Saturday,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “So the good news as we stand here today, which is really premature, is we have two guys that have played pretty well. We know more now than we did a week ago, that’s for sure. And I’d love to have both guys healthy, ready to go. See where it all goes here.”
MOSS EXPECTED TO RETURN
Iowa’s secondary will get some help with the expected return of cornerback Riley Moss, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury. He's tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He returned two for touchdowns in the season-opening win over Indiana.
“He’s feeling pretty good right now,” Ferentz said. "Unless we hit a pothole along the way he’ll be full throttle Saturday.”
THE BATTLE FOR FLOYD
Floyd of Rosedale, the bronzed pig trophy given to the winner of this game each season, has found a home in Iowa City in recent years. Iowa has won the last six games, and eight of the last nine, in the series, including last season’s 35-7 win. The overall battle for Floyd, though, is tied 42-42-2.
THE OVERALL SERIES
Minnesota leads, 62-50-2. But the Gophers haven’t had much luck in Iowa City, going 23-31-1. Minnesota has lost nine consecutive games at Kinnick Stadium, the last win coming in 1999. It’s the Gophers’ longest active road losing streak.
Minnesota (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 19 Iowa (7-2, 4-2, No. 20 CFP)
Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST (Big Ten Network)
Line: Iowa by 4 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: Minnesota leads 62-50-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
This is the week the Big Ten West race begins to get unjumbled. Right now there's a four-way tie for first. The winner of this game will be tied for or alone in first place; the loser falls a full game behind with two to play. It also is a trophy game, with the teams playing for Floyd of Rosedale. Iowa has won the bronze pig six straight years and eight of the last nine.
Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan vs. Iowa defense. Morgan has been up and down and must bring his ‘A’ game if the Gophers are to win. He's completed only 51.5% of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions in the Gophers' three losses. The Hawkeyes intercepted three passes against Northwestern to run their nation-best total to 19 and are allowing fewer than 16 points per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Minnesota: LB Mariano Sori-Marin has had two straight double-digit tackle games and is the top playmaker for a defense tasked with holding down Iowa's run game and putting pressure on what probably will be a new starting quarterback.
Iowa: QB Alex Padilla is expected to make his first start in place of the banged-up and underperforming Spencer Petras. Padilla entered last week's 17-12 win over Northwestern on Iowa's fourth possession and completed 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards.
FACTS & FIGURES
Iowa has not trailed in a game against the Gophers since the fourth quarter in 2016, a span of 245 minutes and 28 seconds. ... The Hawkeyes are 20-5 in their last 25 trophy games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin). ... Tyler Goodson has been Iowa's leading rusher in 12 straight games. The last Iowa player to lead the team in rushing in 13 consecutive games was Shonn Greene (2008). ... Minnesota offensive lineman Conner Olson will make his 55th career start, tying the Big Ten record set by Ohio State’s Billy Price (2014-17). ... Gophers WR Chris Autman-Bell is expected to play. He left last week's game after taking a big hit in the third quarter. Autman-Bell leads the Gophers with 24 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns.