College football is just around the corner -- we’re exactly five weeks away from the Gophers’ season opener on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll take a look at Minnesota’s 12 opponents by asking five questions to a beat writer covering that team. Today’s installment is Game 5, the homecoming game against Iowa.
When, where: Oct. 6, TCF Bank Stadium, 2:30 or 3 p.m., TV to be determined
2017 record: 8-5, 4-5 Big Ten
Opponent’s beat writer: Mark Emmert, Des Moines Register
Five Questions for Mark Emmert on Iowa
1. With running back Akrum Wadley and center James Daniels off to the NFL, what must quarterback Nate Stanley do so the offense doesn’t take a step back?
Stanley had an impressive debut season as a starter, with 26 touchdowns against only six interceptions. But there were a couple of poor showings mixed in there as well. It took him time to master the offense and the freedom he was given to alter plays at the line of scrimmage. It also didn’t help that his corps of wide receivers was undistinguished. All reports are that the junior is much more comfortable after a second offseason working with quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe. Stanley’s arm strength and intelligence are unquestioned. He should flourish as long as the rebuilt interior of Iowa’s offensive line can give him enough time to find his receivers, led by a terrific tight end tandem of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Stanley also will benefit if he can use his legs a little more to buy himself some time.
2. The defense lost All-Americans in linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Josh Jackson, along with five other starters. Who steps up so there’s not a big drop-off?
Iowa has a potentially devastating trio of defensive ends in Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa. Safety may be the deepest position on the team, led by Minnesota native Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase. They will pressure opposing offenses into negative plays and turnovers. The biggest question is at linebacker, where Iowa will miss not only the generational talent and leadership of Jewell in the middle, but fellow senior starters Bo Bower and Ben Niemann. The Hawkeyes will be breaking in three new starters, with Amani Jones in the middle likely flanked by Kristian Welch and Nick Niemann (Ben’s little brother). None have started a game before this year. They need to get up to speed quickly. At cornerback, Jackson is obviously a huge loss. But junior Michael Ojemudia and sophomore Matt Hankins have some experience there, and there are several incoming freshmen that the coaching staff is high on. The drop-off shouldn’t be as severe as at linebacker.
3. Can we expect another shootout between Iowa and Iowa State like last year’s 44-41 overtime win by the Hawkeyes?
I don’t think so. As entertaining as it was for fans, that game was a bit of an outlier for both teams’ defenses. I think another closely contested game is likely and the Cyclones may even be favored on the road in this one. But I think 24-21 is a much more reasonable expectation for a final score.
4. Iowa will beat the Gophers if …
Stanley avoids turnovers and the defense doesn’t surrender big plays. Iowa will be the more talented, physical team in this one and should be able to wear the Gophers down coming off a bye week for their first road game of the season.
5. The Gophers will beat Iowa if …
They can sting Iowa early to get a lead and keep the crowd engaged. Minnesota is talented but young and can’t afford to get into a grind-it-out affair against the Hawkeyes.
Looking for more on the upcoming college football season? Check out some previous posts: