The Gophers pass defense got a big boost Saturday with two of the team’s top cornerbacks, KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford, back from suspensions.
Coach Tracy Claeys reinstated Hardin, Buford, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson on Tuesday after a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Antonio Shenault had filled in as a starting cornerback, but he was sick Saturday and unable to play. So Hardin started, just as he did in the season opener, and Buford made his Gophers debut as part of their nickel package.
Hardin intercepted a first-quarter pass from C.J. Beathard. The Hawkeyes took a deep shot, but Hardin had Jerminic Smith covered, tipping the pass and then grabbing it. He went into the end zone and returned the ball to the Minnesota 31.
Hardin finished with seven tackles, and Buford had two tackles and one pass breakup.
The Gophers entered with the Big Ten’s worst pass defense (255.3 yards per game) but held Beathard to 142 passing yards.
“I thought our D-line did awfully well, and coverage was good,” Claeys said. “I wasn’t disappointed with the defense at all.”
Receiver Rashad Still returned after missing three games because of a broken clavicle and made two catches for 36 yards on the Gophers’ final drive.
Right tackle Jonah Pirsig suffered a left ankle injury and was carted off the field after the third quarter. He returned to the sideline on crutches.
Right guard Vincent Calhoun played sporadically due to his turf toe injury.
Defensive end Tai’yon Devers returned after missing the Penn State game because of a high ankle sprain.
Linebacker Carter Coughlin (elbow) played on special teams after missing last week’s game.
Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. left the game because of an unspecified injury in the second half.
Linebackers coach Mike Sherels returned to the Gophers sideline after being reinstated from medical leave. Sherels was in critical condition with an intestinal issue and went through multiple surgeries in August.
“He lives and dies for the game of football,” linebacker Jonathan Celestin said. “So it was great to see him on the field with us.”
Linebacker Mike Rallis added: “[Sherels] brings energy, enthusiasm and he also gets honest if we’re doing something wrong.
“So it was nice having him there to correct us and make adjustments. He’s such a smart coach.”
Splitting the load
Shannon Brooks had a team-high 55 rushing yards on 10 carries, and Rodney Smith had 11 carries for 44 yards.
Smith injured his left hand on the opening kickoff and had a first-quarter fumble, but he had the ball cradled in his right hand. Smith later had a 32-yard kickoff return, setting up the Gophers’ only touchdown — a 9-yard run from Brooks.
Brooks said he wasn’t surprised that he and Smith had so few carries.
“That’s one of those things you’re not in control of,” Brooks said. “You’ve just got to trust what the coaches call and do your job every play”
Iowa senior Desmond King savored Saturday’s 14-7 victory, remembering the Hawkeyes’ 51-14 loss on the same field two years ago. “Back in 2014, we didn’t feel like we played a really good game,” King said.