The Gophers came into Iowa with rare perfection but left looking disheveled -- oh, and without that little bronze pig.
IOWA CITY - So now we know. The Gophers aren't perfect.
They hadn't given up a big play this season, hadn't been shut out for a half, hadn't allowed Floyd of Rosedale to fall into Hawkeyes hands for a couple of seasons. Most of all, they hadn't lost a game in 2012.
But maybe they hadn't really been tested, either. Because they have now done all those things, and Iowa made it look pretty easy.
The Hawkeyes scored touchdowns on three successive possessions Saturday, then sat on their lead until it was time to stampede the visitors' sideline in jam-packed Kinnick Stadium and reclaim long-lost Floyd, the spoils of their 31-13 victory. They paraded him around the stadium, with the crowd chanting, "We want Floyd!" They got him, because they've got Mark, too.
Mark Weisman, the Hawkeyes' backup-fullback-turned-star-tailback, added to his out-of-nowhere legend with 155 yards before halftime and 177 for the game, and Iowa avoided the Gophers' mistakes.
The Hawkeyes didn't turn over the ball, while the Gophers lost a fumble and three Max Shortell interceptions.
And Iowa smothered the Gophers rushing game -- Donnell Kirkwood had only 33 yards on 12 carries -- while Weisman kept running the same off-tackle-left that produced one big gain after another.
"He's a big, physical back," Minnesota linebacker Mike Rallis said of Weisman, a walk-on who started the season as a buried-in-the-depth-chart fullback but has now emerged to pick up more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. "You've got to use good fundamentals. You've got to bring it to him if you want to bring him down. An arm tackle's not going to do it."
Weisman dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, shredding the Gophers defense for runs of 15, 44 and 32 yards, against a defense that had not allowed a 30-yard gain all season. On Iowa's first touchdown possession, Weisman was responsible for 88 yards on the 84-yard drive -- a penalty explains the statistical anomaly -- and reached the end zone on an 8-yard rumble, his seventh touchdown in three games.
And when the Gophers intensified their focus on Weisman, the Hawkeyes used it to their advantage.
Weisman took a handoff, cut upfield, then pitched the ball back to quarterback James Vandenberg, who spotted receiver Jordan Cotton all alone, racing toward the end zone. The perfect flea-flicker resulted in a 47-yard touchdown pass, and a big bite out of the defense's confidence.
"It was a good play. We didn't put ourselves in the right position to stop the plays," Gophers junior safety Brock Vereen said. "When you don't bring things that it takes to win a game -- the simple things, especially -- a trick play like that will catch you off guard."
What really caught the Gophers off-guard, though, was how difficult it is to turn around a game going bad.
After holding the Hawkeyes to a 44-yard field goal to open the game -- a drive that really amounted to only one big play, a 45-yard completion -- the Gophers got a first down and appeared to be marching themselves. But when Iowa cornerback Tanner Miller ripped a pass out of A.J. Barker's hands for an interception that required the replay official to adjudicate, the tone of the game abruptly changed. What looked like a back-and-forth game suddenly caved in on Minnesota.
"They got momentum and got the crowd behind them. That happens in college football," said coach Jerry Kill, now 0-5 on the road in Big Ten games. "They did a good job of stripping the ball away ... and Iowa got on a roll."
That the Hawkeyes did. While the Gophers had to punt away five consecutive possessions, Iowa racked up three touchdowns in a span of only 6 minutes and 5 seconds, an avalanche that sent the Gophers to the locker room at halftime trailing 24-0 but feeling it was more like 124-0.
"We get back on the field, and it's three-and-out. Then your defense is back out there and your wheels are spinning. You get tired, and you can't get it shut off," Kill said. "You can't stop the bleeding."
The Gophers regrouped at halftime and didn't allow an offensive touchdown the rest of the way, while scoring twice themselves, on touchdown passes to Isaac Fruechte and Drew Gooder. But with 5:15 to play, Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey stepped in front of receiver Derrick Engel and intercepted Shortell's pass, then raced 68 yards with it for a game-clinching score.
"We were still in the ballgame. We've been in those before," Kill said. "That was a critical play in the game. They were in a good momentum swing, and we never got it stopped."
|Atlanta - LP: A. Wood||0||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - WP: A. Bastardo||1|
|Cleveland - LP: D. Salazar||5||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: J. Verlander||7|
|Toronto - LP: R. Dickey||0||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: K. Gibson||7|
|Seattle - LP: J. Beimel||6||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: P. Figueroa||8|
|Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - LP: M. Bumgarner||1|
|Colorado - WP: F. Morales||3||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: I. Kennedy||1|
|St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright||8||FINAL|
|Washington - LP: T. Jordan||0|
|Milwaukee - LP: R. Wooten||2||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez||11|
|NY Yankees - WP: C. Sabathia||10||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - LP: D. Price||2|
|Toronto - LP: S. Santos||5||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: C. Fien||9|
|Boston - WP: J. Lester||3||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - LP: R. Belisario||1|
|Kansas City - WP: J. Shields||5||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: S. Feldman||1|