Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Golden Gophers’ lack of discipline came back to bite them this weekend. Eight penalties for 83 yards means you’re putting yourself behind in down and distance far too often to win many games. The most egregious example of undisciplined play by the Gophers has been all over the highlight reels this week: Jaylen Waters‘ hit (resulting in his ejection from the game) on Penn State kickoff specialist Joey Julius.
Julius is an unusual kicker. For starters, he’s 5’10” and weighs nearly 270 pounds. He also likes to run downfield after kicking off and make tackles. Of course, opposing players are going to relish the chance to flatten a kicker who tackles people, and I have no problem with that. The issue is that the play in question resulted in a touchback and was essentially over when Waters steamrolled Julius. I would have been okay with Waters receiving a personal foul without the ejection, but I’m not acrimonious about the ejection either. He needs to be more aware of the situation, but he’s a freshman. He’ll learn.
The most unfortunate thing about Minnesota’s lack of discipline is that they otherwise played a good game. They outplayed Penn State by quite a bit in the first half and did a very good job keeping Saquon Barkley bottled up. The Nittany Lions’ leading rusher got free for one touchdown but was held to 63 yards on 20 carries. The pass defense got a shutout as far as touchdowns are concerned, but they did allow 335 yards and continued to be prone to giving up big plays. Penn State receiver Chris Godwin is a prime example, with just four catches for 97 yards. Special teams continue to be a strength for the Gophers, with both kicker Emmit Carpenter and kicker-turned-punter Ryan Santoso having been very consistent.
And now, onto Iowa and the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy. The good news for Minnesota is that Northwestern had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten through the first month of the season and beat the Hawkeyes anyway. However, the main thing the Wildcats did to beat Iowa was on defense, and that was to shut down the running game. LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley combined for just 107 yards on the ground; quarterback C.J. Beathard‘s -28 yards rushing brought the team total down to 79 yards. The Gophers have been decent against the run, but they haven’t faced anyone with two strong backs of Daniels’ and Wadley’s caliber, nor have they faced a quarterback of Beathard’s level.
Flipping the field, I think Minnesota’s run game should be fine. Iowa has struggled defensively on the ground, and you have to figure that one or more of Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith, and Kobe McCrary will get hot. I’m nervous about the passing game due to one Desmond King, cornerback for the Hawkeyes. King is a senior and one of the best defensive backs in the country (and a threat returning both kicks and punts). My guess is that he’ll cover Wolitarsky, meaning someone else will have to step up. Brian Smith, coming off a career-best seven catches for 101 yards, may be that guy.
Ultimately, I don’t see Minnesota winning this one. They’re definitely capable, and it should be a competitive game, but my guess is that they’ll hurt themselves with penalties just enough to let Floyd of Rosedale stay in Iowa City for another year.