IOWA CITY – Fans came dressed in black, and Iowa unveiled all-black alternate uniforms Saturday night, as if the Hawkeyes needed something else to add to the pulsating electricity at sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
The Gophers were in town for the 80th battle for Floyd of Rosedale, and Iowa was looking for its first 10-0 start in school history.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeyes kept the crowd of 70,585 rocking by dismantling Minnesota’s normally stout defense in a 40-35 victory.
Iowa rolled up 504 yards, the most Minnesota had allowed in a game since 2011 against Nebraska.
“They’re a good football team; so are we,” said Gophers coach Tracy Claeys, who fell to 0-3 since replacing retired predecessor Jerry Kill. “We came up one play short here or there. I’m awfully proud of our kids to hang in there and compete with the teams we’re supposed to be competing with.”
Claeys took over as interim coach Oct. 28 when Kill retired and received a three-year deal to take over as head coach last Wednesday. The three games he’s coached have come against then-No. 15 Michigan, then-1 Ohio State and No. 8 Iowa.
The Gophers (4-6, 1-5 Big Ten) need to win their final two games over Illinois and Wisconsin to ensure bowl eligibility.
“I understand we have to win, and we’ll get there,” Claeys said. “But if you look at it, we’ve never had a year where we’ve had so many kids with injuries miss multiple games. It’s not one game and return. I’m so proud of the other kids we put in there and they just keep fighting.”
Trailing by 12 points late in the fourth quarter, the Gophers drew up a halfback pass, and Shannon Brooks hit a wide-open Drew Wolitarsky for a 42-yard touchdown.
The Gophers were desperate for a stop on Iowa’s next drive, but junior LeShun Daniels broke free with his third touchdown run, a 51-yarder through a wide-open hole.
Minnesota came right back with a quick touchdown, as Brooks scored on a 3-yard run with 1:16 remaining. The Gophers still had life, but Ryan Santoso’s onside kick sped out of bounds.
The Hawkeyes marched across the field to grab the 98.3-pound bronze pig, and hoisted him to raucous cheers. Last November, the Gophers had reclaimed Floyd with a 51-14 rout in Minneapolis, but that was a whole different season for both teams.
The Hawkeyes (10-0, 6-0) showed why they’re ranked No. 5 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
“Definitely a good ballclub, better than I expected, I’d have to say,” Leidner said. “On film, I compared them to a lot like last year. I thought it’d be a similar game to what happened last year, but they do a good job offensively.
“Defensively, they hit hard, they play physical football — like Iowa does, but just a lot different of a game than last year.”
Iowa used a balanced attack, rushing for 276 yards and passing for 234.
Beathard, who is playing through a hip/groin injury, completed 18 of 26 passes for 213 yards, and rushed 10 times for 50 yards and two touchdowns.
Iowa’s top four running backs have all been injured this season, but they all played against the Gophers, and Daniels led the way with 26 carries for 195 yards.
One week after holding Ohio State to 21 offensive points, the Gophers didn’t force Iowa to punt once in the first half. The Hawkeyes went to the locker room with a 24-14 lead.
Iowa’s four first-half drives went: touchdown, touchdown, field goal and touchdown.
“We’re going to struggle on defense for a couple weeks, that’s all there is to it,” Claeys said. The Gophers played this one without four injured defensive starters and two key reserves. “We’re playing the best kids we’ve got. They’re playing their butts off, but we’re not the same defensive football team we lined up with the first half of the season.”
The Gophers wasted a good offensive effort. Iowa came in ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense (16.6 points per game) and 12th in total defense (300.9 yards per game), but Minnesota gained 434 yards.
Leidner passed for 259 yards, giving him four games with at least 250, which matches a school record set by Mike Hohensee in 1982.
“Mitch has done a good job of throwing catchable balls,” Claeys said. “I thought the O-line did a nice job protecting him, and then we mixed in the run. We were able to control them up front a little bit better than Ohio State.”