The Minnesota Gophers hoped to bring home the bacon, but they couldn’t get their own feet out of the fire.
It was one of those games where Minnesota can go back and point to a number of reasons why it should have won, but the reality is it turned out to be just another in a string of losses to rival Iowa, which has laid claim to the Floyd of Rosedale since a win over the Gophers in 2015.
This one might have hurt more than others, though. Minnesota had its chances – plenty of them – but repeatedly made bad decisions or had poor execution – in losing 27-22 in Iowa City.
The defeat means Minnesota needs help to win the Big Ten West title. Just two weeks ago the Gophers were in the driver’s seat, just needing to win out to capture the division.
Making things worse, the Gophers were facing a quarterback in Alex Padilla who was making his first start. He wasn’t great, but good enough – completing 11 of 24 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Meanwhile, Minnesota senior QB Tanner Morgan was just 14 of 30 for 183 yards with a TD, missed badly high while throwing to an open Chris Autman-Bell on a third-down play (the Gophers would punt from the Iowa 43 and the Hawkeyes scored on their next play, a 72-yard pass) and took a sack on the final play of the game (with Minnesota owning no timeouts, the final few seconds just ticked off).
There were plenty of other mistakes: A failure to score touchdowns in the red zone, a dropped interception, blocked field-goal attempt, poor two-point play and throwing short of the chains on third downs.
With all of that, Minnesota still had a chance to win after Iowa puzzlingly tried to run clock and not score by the goal line with under two minutes remaining. The Gophers even got 39 yards to paydirt with 12 seconds remaining.
Then came the sack and Iowa players lifting the bronze pig known as Floyd. It’s a tough one to swallow for the Gophers. Best to avoid bacon for a while.
Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
It’s always tough to hand these out in a loss but we’re going to get a little sentimental here. Senior tight end Ko Kieft, who is from Sioux City, Iowa, had probably the most memorable game of his time at Minnesota. In the second quarter on a fourth-and-2, with wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer in, Iowa showed Cover 0 (all-out blitz). Kramer faked a handoff to running back Ky Thomas then found a wide open Kieft, who faked a block and ran scot-free. Kieft rumbled into the end zone for just the second touchdown of his career and his longest reception, which had to feel good in his home state. He was targeted two other times and finished with 48 yards.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Minnesota’s other touchdown was scored by Chris Autman-Bell, who was targeted 12 times – double more than anyone else. With the Gophers’ ground game stymied for the most part – Minnesota’s longest rush of the day was 16 yards – Autman-Bell had the biggest play, scoring on a 68-yard catch and run, the longest reception of the season for UM. He finished with five catches for 109 yards, his biggest output of the season.
This is going to be about four moments, all of which showed conservative play calling and were largely responsible for the defeat. Three occurred in the red zone. Let’s break them down in the order they occurred:
1. First quarter: After getting only one yard on a third-down run from the Iowa 2, P.J. Fleck elected to get the points with a chip-shot field goal, tying the game at 3. Quarterback sneak? Wildcat? Running behind that big offensive line? On the road, seemed like it’s time to be aggressive.
2. Second quarter: The Gophers had second-and-3 from the Iowa 16, but back-to-back runs by Bucko Irving netted just one yard each. The latter play left 22 seconds on the clock before the half. Instead of going for a first and possibly a score, Fleck let the clock run down and called timeout for another easy field goal. More points on the board and a 13-10 lead.
3. Third quarter: On a third-and-5, Morgan threw short of the chains to Brevyn Spann-Ford, who got only five yards. Another field goal, down 17-16.
4. Third quarter: On a third-and-6 from the Iowa 33, Morgan looked to Irving on a swing pass – this wasn’t a checkdown, it was the planned play – and the running back was thrown for a three-yard loss. Minnesota elected to attempt a 53-yard field goal with Dragan Kesich, but it was blocked, Iowa taking over at its own 42. Six plays later the Hawkeyes scored to take an eight-point lead.
Minnesota held the ball for 40:02, outgained Iowa 409-277, had 23 first downs compared to the Hawkeyes’ 12, were 7-for-19 on third-down conversions (Iowa was 4 of 12) and 3-for-4 on fourth-down tries. And lost.
THEY SAID IT
"You always want touchdowns, I want to make sure I’m clear on that. Everybody wants touchdowns. If you could never kick a field goal, great. But you do everything you can to gain as many points as you can to get to the fourth quarter and see where you’re at. You never know how it’s going to go. You never know how it's going to end up." -- head coach P.J. Fleck
"I thought we played really good football against a top-15 team for the majority of the game. They want some plays back, we want some plays back. It came down to the final possession against a top-15 team in a rivalry game. ... It came down to the very end. We haven't played Iowa like that. ... You have to get closer before you can get over the hump." -- Fleck
"When we get down in the green zone, we have to score." -- wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell
"There are two ways to go. You try to go score right now, which they would have been happy with. And then the other thing we wanted to burn a little clock, so, it's a chance -- it's five points or it's whatever it would have been. It felt like our defense would be okay with the time that they got back when they got the ball back. 44 seconds. Felt like we would be fine, so we felt you had two choices. We thought that was the smartest." -- Iowa Kirk Ferentz on the late-game strategy near the Minnesota goal line
Minnesota plays its final road game of the season as it travels to Indiana to face a struggling Hoosiers team. After posting winning seasons the past two years, including 6-2 in 2020, Indiana fell to 2-8 after being pounded at home by Rutgers. The Hoosiers are winless in conference play, where they’ve scored more than 15 points just once.