The agricultural influence in both Minnesota and Iowa is heavy, so much so that the Gophers and Hawkeyes play football games for a trophy of a bronze hog, Floyd of Rosedale.
On Saturday afternoon Floyd was on the line for the 83rd time, when an experienced Hawkeyes team beat the Gophers 48-31 in front of 48,199 at TCF Bank Stadium. Afterward, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck used a farming example to describe what had transpired with his youthful team.
“It’s like planting crops, and they’re all supposed to grow at the same time. That’s what you expect,’’ Fleck said. “… But we kind of have spotted growth right now. This row is growing a little faster than that row, that row hasn’t grown yet. This row is growing unbelievably. Until we keep growing as a team, some of the results could be like that.’’
Turns out, Iowa had the combines to harvest those maroon and gold crops Saturday.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns and defensive end Anthony Nelson posted three sacks of Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad as the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) beat the Gophers (3-2, 0-2) to retain Floyd for the fourth consecutive year.
“We didn’t do enough to win the football game,’’ Fleck said. “You play to win the game, and we didn’t win the game. Disappointed, not mad. There’s a big difference.’’
Annexstad completed 17 of 33 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw three of the Gophers’ four interceptions.
From the start, Iowa took control. The Hawkeyes led 14-0 after their first two possessions and kept the Gophers at arm’s length for the rest of the game. Minnesota twice had the lead down to seven points, at 14-7 and 31-24, but the Hawkeyes immediately responded with touchdowns.
Stanley, a junior from Menomonie, Wis., was a big reason why. In the first quarter, he threw touchdown passes of 3 yards to tight end T.J. Hockenson and 60 yards to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the second after blown coverage in the secondary. Stanley was especially tough against the Gophers on third down, completing 10 of 16 passes for 198 yards. Seven of his completions went for first downs and two for touchdowns.
“There’s something simple that we always say on defense, and that’s if we want to play better, just play better,’’ said Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber, whose team has given up an average of 40 points in its four-game Big Ten losing streak. “That’s just something we have to do game in and game out.’’
After the Gophers cut Iowa’s lead to 14-7 on Annexstad’s 3-yard TD pass to fellow true freshman Rashod Bateman, Iowa boosted its lead to 21-7 by successfully executing a trick play.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 4, the Hawkeyes ran the “swinging gate’’ play with field-goal personnel on the field. With holder Colten Rastetter and kicker Miguel Recinos lined up 7 yards behind long snapper Jackson Subbert on the left hash mark, Subbert snapped the ball diagonally to Hockenson, who was near the right hash and behind six linemen. Hockenson ran around the right end and rumbled in for the score.
“We just didn’t set the edge,’’ Fleck said.
Down 21-10 later in the second quarter, Fleck went to his bag of tricks and came up empty. On fourth-and-5 from their 49, the Gophers tried a fake punt, but punter Jacob Herbers overthrew Chris Autman-Bell. Iowa quickly pounced, with Stanley hitting Nick Easley for a 21-yard TD pass with 1:35 left in the half for a 28-10 lead.
Jacob Huff’s interception of Stanley set up Annexstad’s 6-yard TD pass to Tyler Johnson with 53 seconds left in the half. But Iowa responded with a field goal early in the third quarter. After Carter Coughlin’s strip-sack of Stanley gave the Gophers the ball at the Iowa 3, Seth Green scored on a 1-yard run to trim the Hawkeyes lead to 31-24.
But as they did all game, Iowa answered. Smith-Marsette’s 49-yard kickoff return led to Stanley’s 5-yard TD pass on third down to tight end Noah Fant for a 38-24 lead. Iowa tacked on 10 more points in the fourth quarter, and the Gophers got a second TD reception by Bateman.
Despite the loss, Fleck saw some growth in those crops.
“To have the start we had, that thing could’ve been 64-0, and it wasn’t,’’ he said. “We were in the game all the way until the about the last five minutes. That wasn’t because we quit. … We made huge strides at every position.’’