With four minutes to play in Saturday’s game, the small but vocal Iowa contingent at TCF Bank Stadium burst into a “Let’s Go Hawks” chant.
Gophers fans were streaming for the exits after a fourth-down interception sealed Minnesota’s fate. All that was left was to bleed the clock — which Iowa was able to do all day — and for Iowa fans to take a satisfying drive down I-35 for the first time since 2008.
It’s too soon to say Iowa is “back” when it comes to being relevant in Big Ten football. But the Hawkeyes are back to handling the Gophers with relative ease, doing so for the second consecutive season with a convincing 23-7 victory over Minnesota on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
“It’s about taking steps,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team improved to 4-1 and matched last season’s win total. “Our guys have prepared well every week. If you can do that every week, you give yourself a chance.”
The final tally could have been even more lopsided based on the numbers and eye test.
Iowa outgained Minnesota 464-165, including a 246-30 gap in rushing yards that underscored which team won the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The Hawkeyes were focused on stopping Minnesota’s running game and did not prepare specifically for either Gophers quarterback. The pregame presumption was Mitch Leidner would start, but Philip Nelson returned from injury and played the entire game for the Gophers.
“Whoever came out we were going to play physical. … Honestly it didn’t matter,” said Iowa defensive lineman Carl Davis, who had four tackles. “We knew they were a running team, so their quarterback wasn’t going to be a big thing.”
Mark Weisman, who had 177 yards rushing and a TD in last year’s 31-13 Hawkeyes victory in Iowa City, finished with 147 yards on 24 carries this time, helping Iowa control the ball for more than 36 minutes.
“He’s a workhorse out there on the field, and he’s a smart player, too,” Ferentz said. “I’m sure glad he’s on our team.”
But it wasn’t just Weisman. Quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 218 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 35 yards and another big score. That rushing TD came on a third-and-goal scramble, one of many big plays Rudock made on third down to extend drives. For the game, Iowa was 8-for-14 on third-down conversions.
“Outside of that one play, I can’t think of a bad play he had,” Ferentz said of Rudock, referencing a fourth-quarter interception as his one blemish.
The Hawkeyes still have a climb to return to their old perch — they were a combined 19-19 from 2010-12 after going to the Orange Bowl after the 2009 season — but it’s a start when it comes to restoring order.
“It’s only two games [against Minnesota]. The last two games,” Weisman said. “It’s more important just getting wins; 1-0 in the Big Ten is important.”