Gophers safety Brock Vereen limped off the field in the second quarter of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to Iowa with a left knee injury, and slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration.

It wasn’t the same knee he had operated on in 2012, forcing him to miss spring practice that year, but the senior knew this game was too important to miss any time.

Vereen returned for the second half and came up with a big play early in the fourth quarter. After the Gophers scored their lone touchdown, trimming Iowa’s lead to 20-7, the Hawkeyes marched right back down the field and looked poised to score again.

From the 17-yard line, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock took a shot at the end zone, seeing an open receiver, but Vereen hustled over for his first interception of the season.

“It was a play that we were kind of ready for,” Vereen said. “Coach [Jerry] Kill just made a good call, and we were able to execute.”

Vereen, who finished with eight tackles, was still limping after the game but said he’d be ready to play Michigan next week.

“Just talking to the training staff, it’s not anything serious,” he said. “The fact that I was able to play the rest of the game, whether it was adrenaline or whatever, I’ll be out there next week.”

Wells banged up, too

Gophers cornerback Derrick Wells appeared to aggravate his right shoulder injury in the first half and was taken for X-rays before returning for the second half. Wells finished with four tackles, but the Hawkeyes weren’t shy about challenging him. Wells hurt the shoulder on the first day of preseason camp, when he took a hard fall before the team was in shoulder pads.

With cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun out for the season with a knee injury, the Gophers are trying to get by with a beat-up secondary. Safety Cedric Thompson matched middle linebacker Damien Wilson for the team lead with 10 tackles Saturday, and backup cornerback Jeremy Baltazar added five tackles.

Pass rush struggles

For the second consecutive week, the Gophers were held without a sack.

“We work on pass rush just as much as we work on anything else during the week in practice,” defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. “Really, it comes down to a question of execution. It’s not that we don’t have the right plays, that we don’t have the right personnel. It’s execution.”

Running backs limited

Rodrick Williams started at tailback for the Gophers, and David Cobb was the next tailback to enter, before Donnell Kirkwood got his first carries since he sprained an ankle in the season opener against UNLV.

Williams finished with seven carries for 22 yards, Cobb had six for 15, and Kirkwood had three for 6. That’s an average of 2.7 yards per carry for the team’s running backs.

“You always expect to go in and do well and run the ball,” Kill said. “But [Iowa] won the line of scrimmage today, without a doubt.”

Area of separation

The Gophers converted on just four of 13 third-down chances, and Iowa was 8-for-14.