Not even several injuries to Iowa’s starting defense on Saturday was enough for the Indiana Hoosiers to walk out of Kinnick Stadium with their first Big Ten victory.
The Hawkeyes played the contest without starting defensive tackle Tom Nardo, starting defensive end Lebron Daniel, starting linebacker Tyler Nielsen and backup linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Also, starting linebacker James Morris was hobbled by an ankle injury and wide receiver Keenan Davis was hurt late in the game.
Still, Iowa put together one of its best offensive performances of the season, and that outweighed a not-so-impressive performance by the banged-up defense as Iowa beat Indiana 42-24 on Homecoming.
“We were happy to get the win, and now we move on to Minnesota,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Any time you give up points that is not good. We are not playing very well as a defense right now, and the main thing we have had trouble with is third-down conversions.We have to do a better job on third down.”
The good news for Iowa is that the Hawkeyes are playing a team that is maybe worse than Indiana this season in the Minnesota Gophers (1-6). The bad news is that Iowa played the Gophers last year in Minneapolis and lost despite being heavy favorites.
“They are very well-coached and the team is playing hard right now,” Ferentz sasid. “They are probably making too many mistakes, and he (head coach Jerry Kill) would probably tell you that that has hurt them. All I know is that we are going on the road, and we have not won yet on the road. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
The Gophers have lost four straight and have been outscored in their three Big Ten games against Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan, 144-31. Minnesota’s offense is last in the league in scoring (17.4 points/game) and yards per game (293.7). On the flip side, the Gopher defense is last in the Big Ten in points allowed at 35.9, 11th in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game at 428.6 and 11th in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed at 1,345.
Minnesota gave up 515 total yards to Nebraska this past weekend, 346 of that came on the ground. Against Purdue, Minnesota allowed 217 rushing yards and Michigan ran for 363 yards while putting up 580 total yards.
Given what has happened to them in the past three games, expect Iowa to try to get Marcus Coker going early so that the Hawkeyes can remain balanced with the play-action pass. It is a similar recipe to last weekend’s win over Indiana.
“His yards per carry this last game was up around six and it was pretty good the week before, too,” Ferentz said of Coker’s improved production the past few games. “He is running a little bit more decisively now. He is more confident. When players miss practice time it tends to show on the field. With him gaining ground, that is certainly helpful to the offense.”
The Gophers’ offense is led by quarterback MarQueis Gray, who will run it or throw it when the situation arises. He has thrown for 747 yards this season with three TDs and four interceptions. He also has rushed 94 times for 356 yards and two scores. The Gophers will use two QBs as Max Shortell has thrown for 309 yards and two scores this season. The team’s leading receiver by a long ways is Da’Jon McKnight, who has 27 catches for 393 yards and one score.
The big question is whether or not Iowa’s subpar defense will be healthy enough to play well Saturday.
“It’s a challenge, but we have been through that before,” Ferentz said of so many players missing time that it is hard to be cohesive. “It’s just a matter of trying to get better every week. That is what we have to do.”
The Hawkeyes have not won a road football game in nearly a year if you do not count the Insight Bowl in Arizona last year. Ferentz said there has been no real reason why the team hasn’t won other than they just haven’t played well on those days.
“We didn’t play well against Minnesota last year and they did,” he said. “It is about as simple as that. We didn’t deserve to win. It’s just about how handle things and how you play on that given day.”
The Hawkeyes can become bowl eligible with a win Saturday. They are currently 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten Conference play. A win by Iowa and a Michigan State loss to Nebraska would create a log-jam at the top of the Legends Division standings with Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa all being 3-1. Michigan also would have to win this weekend in that scenario.
“They are not going to beat themselves,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “They are as fundamentally sound as any team we will play. I have thought that for many years. I have tons of respect for the program. We’ll have to play well and play mistake-free football to have a chance to win.”
The game against Minnesota will begin at 2:37 p.m. from Minneapolis. It is the second straight year Iowa has played Minnesota in a venue that is not the Metrodome. It should be much nicer than last season, but weather conditions could still play a factor in the offensive plays Iowa decides to call.
“The biggest factor in sports is still wind,” Ferentz said. “And that sure affects the passing game. But it will always go back to what we believe. We believe you have to try to be balanced and do both effectively. It’s a matter of finding out who you are and what you are.”
A.J. Derby’s move to LB is permanent
Ferentz said at his weekly press conference that A.J. Derby’s move from quarterback to linebacker is as permanent as you can get at this point.
“Our intent is for him to be at linebacker, and we haven’t thought much more past that,” Ferentz.
The question remains if Derby continues to get bigger, will he eventually move to defensive end. He is already bigger than most of the linebackers on the roster at 225 pounds. But fans shouldn’t expect to see the Iowa City native on the field at linebacker Saturday.
“I doubt it,” Ferentz said. “What he did this past Saturday on special teams was encouraging. Now the work really begins for him — learning the calls, technique, all those things. Based on that one play, it certainly something to be excited about. Now we can build from there, and his attitude is good. I think he is excited about the whole challenge.”
Ferentz said there is a good chance the team gets Nardo, Hitchens and Nielsen back this weekend for the Minnesota game. He added that eight to 10 guys are “banged up” right now and they are all making progress.
Iowa junior wideout Keenan Davis remains questionable for the game.
“He’s got a tender ankle,” Ferentz said about Davis. “We’ll see how the week goes with all these guys. Hopefully most of them will be back.”
John Raymon has left the program
According to a University of Iowa press release, true freshman defensive end John Raymon has left the program. Raymon is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and came to Iowa from Pennsylvania. He was redshirting this season.