The dream season isn’t over. The unbeaten streak is. What went wrong for Minnesota as they fell to No. 20 Iowa? I saw four major problems.
First and foremost, the game was at Kinnick Stadium. That’s a tough place to play even when the Hawkeyes are bad, which at the moment they are not. Since 1995, the Gophers have played there 12 times, and are 1-11. Their last win in Iowa City was in 1999.
Another major problem was the run game. Credit the Hawkeyes for having the perfect game plan with regards to stopping the run. Rodney Smith led the Gophers with 14 carries for 46 yards. That’s not even a particularly good half for Smith. The team as a whole managed just 63 yards on the ground.
Not surprisingly, the offensive line had a rough day. Guard Curtis Dunlap, injured in the Penn State game, didn’t play. Center Connor Olson shifted over, and backup center John Michael Schmitz took over in the middle. Schmitz has played as part of a rotation the last few games with no problem, but the transition wasn’t seamless. Far from it. Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa was in the backfield seemingly all day. Quarterback Tanner Morgan was sacked six times, and Epenesa was credited with two and a half of them. Sacks were a big issue early in the season, with Morgan going down 15 times through four games, but the line had improved noticeably in that area before facing the Hawkeyes.
Finally, the kicking game continues to be a problem. Freshman Michael Lantz (5/8 on field goals, 36/38 on PATs) was injured, and redshirt freshman Brock Walker took over starting with the Penn State game. Walker made his only field goal attempt and all four PATs against the Nittany Lions. However, he missed a field goal (from 50 yards, so not unexpected) and a crucial PAT against Iowa. The extra point would have allowed Minnesota to tie the game with a field goal; instead, the differential was four points. More consistency out of the kicking game down the stretch could prove critical.
The other problem with the struggling kicking game is that coach Fleck has been going for it on fourth down rather than attempt long field goals. Last night, the team converted on fourth down once, but their other two attempts fell short and gave Iowa good field position.
That’s what went wrong for Minnesota, as I see it. On the bright side, the Gophers continue to have success in the passing game. Morgan played reasonably well when he was upright, completing 25 of 36 pass attempts for 368 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Johnson caught that touchdown, to go with his eight other catches and 170 (!) yards.
Already this team has improved by leaps and bounds over the team that narrowly escaped Fresno State and Georgia Southern two months ago. It’s been a really fun ride, and it’s not over yet.