SCOUTING REPORT Gophers AT Iowa
3 p.m., Saturday, Kinnick Stadium (Ch. 9, 100.3-FM)
A look at the Hawkeyes: Iowa boasts the Big Ten’s most successful kicker, junior Keith Duncan. The Hawkeyes just wish they didn’t have to use him quite so often. Duncan’s 22 field goals in 25 tries are by far the most in the Big Ten, and his 88% success rate is second-best. But a dozen of those kicks have come after Iowa drives reached the red zone, reflecting a frustrating inability to reach the end zone that has contributed greatly to their three losses. The Hawkeyes have only five red-zone touchdowns in their six conference games, fewer than every team but Rutgers. The problem is in the rushing game, which has generated only 96.2 yards on conference play, less than half the Gophers’ 231-yard average. Junior Mekhi Sargent closed last season with 294 yards in his last two Big Ten games but hasn’t contributed more than 68 yards in a conference game this year. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley is third in school history in passing yards but has only seven touchdowns and five interceptions in conference games this year. The offense has been damaged by a leg injury to wideout Brandon Smith, though freshman Tyrone Tracy has stepped up the past two weeks with a 50-yard touchdown against Northwestern and a 77-yard score against Wisconsin.
Who to watch: Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa
The junior pass-rusher led the Big Ten in sacks with 11 last season, and he has gotten to the quarterback in five of Iowa’s six conference games this season, despite frequently being double-teamed. “It’s hard to shake him up. He’s pretty even-keeled that way,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He got a little bit of attention. He’s going to get that all season long.” Epenesa is an anchor on one of the most dominating defenses the Gophers have faced this season. Iowa ranks among the top 20 nationally in rushing, passing and scoring defense; the 24 points they allowed in Wisconsin last week was a season-high.
From the coach: Kirk Ferentz
With a senior quarterback and a strong defense returning, this was supposed to be a big season for the Hawkeyes and Ferentz, who surpassed the tenure of his predecessor, Hayden Fry, by entering his 21st year as head coach. But while the defense has lived up to its billing, the offense, with his son Brian Ferentz as offensive coordinator, has fizzled against the league’s best teams. It’s frustrating, the 64-year-old head coach said, but he long ago learned how to deal with adversity. “I mean, I’m a little more mature. Fifty-five years ago, I might have been guilty of some egregious act, but I think I’ve grown out of that,” Ferentz said. “Losing is losing, winning is winning, but if you can’t deal with both — I’m not saying accept both, but if you can’t deal with both, you really need to get out.”