Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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With Nelson back at quarterback, Gophers offense sputters in 23-7 loss to Iowa

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers game day Updated: September 28, 2013 - 7:33 PM

The Gophers student section was loud and alive during the first quarter Saturday, with chants of “Who hates Iowa? We hate Iowa!”

With a sellout crowd on hand at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers had a chance to prove their undefeated non-conference start had prepared them for the Big Ten season.

Once again, Iowa had other ideas.

The Hawkeyes built a 17-point first-half lead, quieting the crowd, and held on for a 23-7 victory, claiming the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy for the second straight year.

It felt like a repeat of last year’s nightmare in Iowa City. The Gophers were 4-0 heading into that one, too, and wound up falling behind 24-0 by halftime of an eventual 31-13 loss.

This time, Gophers coach Jerry Kill re-inserted Philip Nelson as his starting quarterback for the first time since the sophomore went down with a right hamstring injury two weeks ago.

It was a surprising move, since backup Mitch Leidner had rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns last week against San Jose State, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

Nelson completed some big passes, but he had some shaky moments, too, throwing two interceptions and taking a few sacks on plays when it looked like he could have gotten rid of the ball.

For the game, he completed 12 of 24 passes for 135 yards. He also rushed nine times for minus-18 yards, with the negative yardage coming on sacks.

The Gophers’ biggest problem offensively was their inability to rush the ball. They finished with 27 carries for 30 yards.

Mark Weisman rushed 24 times for 147 yards for Iowa, and Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Rudock completed 15-of-25 passes for 218 yards.

Iowa’s first half touchdowns came on a 4-yard run by Rudock and a 76-yard pass from Rudock to Damond Powell.

Mike Meyers, who kicked three field goals for Iowa, hit a 23-yarder with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter to give Iowa a 20-0 lead.

At that point, the Gophers finally got a spark when Marcus Jones took a kickoff from deep in his end zone and returned it 66 yards.

Four plays later, Nelson hit Derrick Engel with a 23-yard touchdown pass, trimming the lead to 20-7.

The Hawkeyes marked right back down the field and looked poise to score again, but Gophers safety Brock Vereen came up with a big interception in the end zone. Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock appeared to have an open receiver, but Vereen came over and made the pick.

But the Gophers couldn’t make the momentum last, as Nelson took another big snack on the next possession.

By game's end, the student section had cleared and Iowa fans could be heard chanting, "Let's go Hawks!"

The Gophers (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) don’t have long to dwell on the loss, as they play at 4-0 Michigan next week. Iowa (4-1, 1-0) plays Michigan State next week for homecoming.

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