Each week, a reporter covering the Gophers’ opponent will be my guest to break down his or her team. This week, it’s Mark Emmert of the Des Moines Register. He takes a look at Iowa and Saturday’s game.
Here’s the Q&A with Mark Emmert:
Q: Iowa’s three Big Ten losses have been by two points to Penn State, seven to Michigan State and seven in overtime to Northwestern. What do the Hawkeyes need to do to finish these tight games?
A: The common denominators in the three losses have been an offense that is punchless for long stretches of the games, and a bend-don’t-break defense that has one bad series at an inopportune time. The offense is the bigger issue. Iowa is not running the football effectively, which is unusual, and that has made it difficult to sustain drives and keep its defense rested. Consequently, when the defense needs to make a big stand it is too often trying to do so with weary legs. On Saturday at Northwestern, the offense had a strong first quarter, but produced zero points. In the second half, the Hawkeyes gained a mere 74 yards and watched the Wildcats take a lead they couldn’t overcome. The defense made two bad plays on third down, Northwestern capitalized to score two touchdowns, and that was enough to win on a day the Hawkeyes couldn’t move the ball.
Q: Will linebacker Josey Jewell play, and how important is he to Iowa’s defense?
A: Jewell is back at practice this week and expected to make his 38th career start. He is not only Iowa’s best defensive player, but its best player period. The defense held up pretty well without him Saturday, but didn’t produce any turnovers and few negative-yardage plays. With Jewell on the field, everyone can be a little more aggressive because he covers up so many mistakes. He is an all-American for a good reason. He is the heart of the team.
Q: Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz criticized Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck for his recruiting methods over the summer. Do you sense a lot of bad blood between the coaching staffs?
A: I do not. I think Ferentz was taking jabs at a few of Iowa’s rivals when he made those comments on our radio program (Iowa State and Nebraska being the others). He got the reaction he intended, but I think it was more a case of gamesmanship than any latent hostility.
Q: How important does the Floyd of Rosedale trophy rank for Iowa among its trophy games?
A: Well, it’s certainly the oldest and most iconic. I think that makes it the most meaningful, although at least one Hawkeye player this week floated the idea of playing for a live pig instead! I can tell you that most Iowa fans have grown to think that the Hawkeyes should always retain possession of that trophy after going 12-4 in Floyd games since 2001. Victories over Wisconsin have become much more celebrated this century.
Q: What is your prediction for the final score, and how did you arrive at it?
A: I think the Iowa defense has become angry about turning in good performances only to see the offense not hold up its end of things. I expect them to be a determined and passionate group with the return of Jewell and facing a team with an untested quarterback and a pair of freshmen starting on the right side of the offensive line. The Hawkeyes will sell out to stop the run, force Minnesota to pass, and that’s a recipe for a smothering victory. I predict a 21-3 Iowa win.