Gophers replay Iowa 35, Gophers 7

At halfway mark, the slide continues

The recap

 

Halfway through the Big Ten’s eight-game regular season, and the Gophers are 1-3. It’s not the worst record in the conference, thanks to 0-4 Penn State, but it’s a long fall from a team with such high expectations after 11-2 last year.

One of those two losses from 2019 was Iowa, and the Hawkeyes had another repeat performance, establishing an early lead and holding on to it for their sixth consecutive victory over the Gophers.

The Hawkeyes thoroughly outplayed the Gophers in every facet. Their strong defense read everything quarterback Tanner Morgan planned to do, intercepting him twice and keying on playmakers Rashod Bateman and Mohamed Ibrahim. Their offense, with a young quarterback, forced the run through Tyler Goodson with little fight from the Gophers. Even Iowa’s Australian punter outdid the Gophers’ Australian punter.

“Obviously, we have to play better,” Morgan said. “And we know that.”

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Who’s missing? Gophers cornerback Benjamin St-Juste sat out with a positive COVID-19 test, a source close to the situation said. No. 2 running back Treyson Potts, while dressed for the game, did not play after exiting the Illinois game early with a right lower-leg injury. Receiver Chris Autman-Bell took a hard hit late in the game. He jogged, appearing to favor his left side, and didn’t return.

New faces: The Gophers rotated several young players in throughout the game. True freshman Michael Dixon came in at safety, Donald Willis at linebacker, Mike Brown-Stephens at receiver and Preston Jelen at running back were a few examples. Jelen, mostly a special teams player, took Ibrahim’s spot late in the game with the starter already on 33 carries. Brown-Stephens took Autman-Bell’s place late. Morgan, though, did not exit the game even to give some inconsequential playing time to former starter Zack Annexstad, who hasn’t played since 2018 because of injuries.

What’s the rush? The Gophers rush defense is last in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 238.3 yards per game, including 235 against the Hawkeyes. On the flip side, the Gophers have the second-best rushing offense in the conference, averaging 215.3 yards per game, but that’s largely all from Big Ten leader Ibrahim and his 178.8 yards per game. He squeezed 144 yards out of Iowa, a season high allowed by the best rush defense in the conference.

Up next: vs. Purdue

6:30 p.m. Friday, TCF Bank Stadium (BTN)

 

The skinny: The Boilermakers have been one of the surprises of the season, starting 2-0 by beating Iowa and Illinois. Their third game against Wisconsin ended in a no contest after a COVID-19 outbreak on the Badgers, and Purdue returned Saturday and dropped to 2-1 with a 27-20 loss to No. 23 Northwestern, which leads the Big Ten West.

Purdue’s biggest threat is receiver Rondale Moore, an All-America selection as a freshman before a hamstring injury against the Gophers in 2019 ended his sophomore season. He opted out of 2020 initially with COVID-19 concerns ahead of the 2021 NFL draft but made like Bateman and returned. Moore has yet to play this season, though, reportedly struggling with a lower-body injury.

Luckily for Purdue, there is a more-than-serviceable backup for Moore in David Bell. Entering this weekend, he led the Big Ten averaging 121.5 yards per game, including about 11 yards per reception and 11 catches per game with four total receiving touchdowns. Running back Zander Horvath is also second to only Ibrahim in the conference, averaging 115.5 yards per game.

The defense, though, allowed an average of 466 yards per game ahead of the Northwestern game, including 186 on the ground.

Last season, the Gophers beat Purdue 38-31 off a career performance from Morgan, who threw for 396 yards and four scores with 95% accuracy.

Megan ryan