Iowa Exercises Caution, Defeats Gophers 21-16
Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Minnesota sports journalism community had few representatives on hand in the press box at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City last Saturday to witness the University of Iowa’s football team outlast Minnesota’s Golden Gophers by the score of 21 to 16. For example, the two largest newspapers in the state, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press each sent only one employee to report on the match.

In Iowa, however, the beloved Hawkeyes are the equivalent of major league franchises, since the state has none on which to focus. Iowa small-town dailies and weeklies from Estherville to Muscatine apply for media credentials for Hawkeye home football games. Consequently, Minnesota media members are easily identified by the press box regulars. Music man Meredith Wilson described the traits of natives with terms such as “Iowa proud” and “Iowa stubborn.” He could have added “Iowa condescension” to the list. This reveals itself in the tendency to display pity to those outsiders Iowa citizens believe to be less fortunate.

The few Minnesotans in the press box were showered with comments such as: “I can’t believe your football team is suffering so much,” and “I was sorry to read about what’s happened to your football program up there in Minnesota.” Others will remind you that even the great Kirk Ferentz, the current Hawk coach and media darling, posted a 1-10 record in his first year at the Iowa helm. Since then, Iowa has made six consecutive bowl appearances and, this year, will make a seventh. Comparison between the revered Ferentz to current Minnesota coach Tim Brewster may be inevitable, but the older hands in the Hawkeye gang are also be quick to warn that the current Gopher coach could be a Frank Lauterbur or a Bob Commings. The later Iowa coach, like Brewster, had head coaching experience only on the high school level. In Commings’ six seasons as the Iowa mentor, the team never finished above .500. As for Lauterbur, his first season produced a 1-10 record. In his final season at Iowa City, the Hawks were winless (0-11).

Make no mistake, the faithful in Hawkeye Land appear to want to make you believe Brewster will turn out to be another Ferentz. Inside, they are hoping he’s another Lauterbur. As one press box wag eloquently put it: “We love to beat the Goph.” In Iowa, a successful season is capped with a victory over Minnesota. Last Saturday, such an event appeared to be clearly inevitable in the first half with a 21-10 Iowa lead, and it perhaps caused Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe to become overly cautious in the second half. This strategy did work and allowed the Hawks to hang on for a 21-16 victory. This allowed Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker to work his magic, and his pupils saw to it that Minnesota’s offense was held to six second-half points. (Parker handled the Gopher defense from 1972 to 1976.).

“One thing you really expect from Norm Parker,” Brewster said afterwards, “is good defense.”

“We’re just thrilled to get the win,” Ferentz said. “Minnesota competed extremely hard, especially in the second half, but we did what we needed to do to win the game. We’re playing better. We’re not playing perfect, but we’re playing better.”

Two pesky Hawkeye players put emphatic finishes to the first Minnesota drives of the game. On the first possession, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul from Mt. Vernon, Iowa, stopped Gopher quarterback Adam Weber for no gain on third-and-2 from the Minnesota 28. Then, defensive back Charles Godfrey stepped up on the second drive by batting a Weber pass to the ground on third-and-4 from the Minnesota 26.

A 26-yard punt by Minnesota’s Justin Kucek put the Hawkeyes in position to be first on the scoreboard. Iowa began a series at its own 48 where running back Albert Young and Iowa’s seasoned offensive line pushed the ball down the throats of Minnesota’s inept defense. The biggest run—a 22-yarder—was sprung by a nifty downfield block from wide receiver James Cleveland. The 11-play drive culminated in a touchdown pass from Hawkeye quarterback Jake Christensen to tight end Brandon Myers, who hauled in the ball after it was tipped by Cleveland with 3-minutes, 51-seconds left in the period. The point-after kick by Daniel Murray gave the Hawkeyes a 7-0 lead. Young rushed for 44 yards on seven carries during the drive. It marked the first time Iowa scored first in game since September 8 -- a span of nine weeks.

The Hawkeye offense—especially the blocking—remained sharp on Iowa’s second scoring drive. Running back Damian Sims carried the ball for 18 and 22 yards on back-to-back runs through the flat-footed Gophers, and Christensen completed a 20-yard pass to Paul Chaney. Young next kept his legs driving on first-and-goal and plowed his way to the touchdown with 13 seconds left in the period. Murray’s PAT made it 14-0.

Godfrey wasn’t finished disrupting the weak Minnesota defense. On the initial drive of the second quarter Godfrey broke-up a key third-down pass, this one intended for Ernie Wheelwright. The Hawkeyes piled up a 143-15 advantage in total yards after the first 15 minutes and held onto a two-touchdown lead. Iowa also controlled more than 10 minutes of game clock.

Minnesota got on the board with 4:33 left before halftime. However, the Gophers’ largest gain during a 14-play, 64-yard drive was a roughing the quarterback penalty against the Hawkeyes that took the ball to the Iowa 37. Gopher fullback Justin Valentine cut the lead to 14-7 ten plays later with a 1-yard scoring dive. Joel Monroe added the point after touchdown.

Young was the workhorse as the Hawkeyes answered and took a 21-7 lead. Young’s 12-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds remaining in the half was his fifth carry on the 10-play, 80-yard drive. The Gophers made the most of the final 50 seconds and converted a 54-yard field goal by Monroe as time expired to close the gap to 21-10 at the break. Apparently Ferenz and Parker spend little time watching NFL games on Sunday. Monroe’s field goal attempt was similar to one by the Minnesota Vikings’ Ryan Longwell as the second half was coming to a close at the Metrodome in the previous Sunday’s game between Minnesota and the San Diego Chargers that wound up in the arms of a leaping Antonio Cromartie and run back for a 109-yard touchdown run. For Monroe’s kick, Iowa chose to not station a player in the end zone, thus negating any potential runback.

Stats revealed that Iowa outgained Minnesota 228-100 in yards in the first half. Young rushed the ball 16 times for 79 yards and Christensen completed 9 of 13 passes for 106 yards.

For the second half, the Hawks went into a shell. There were two interceptions, but no scoring in the ho-hum third period. The bumbling Gophers cost themselves prime field position when Christensen was flushed from the pocket on third down and tackled well short of first down territory. But Minnesota’s Derrick Onwuachi pummeled Christensen after he was down, costing the Gophers 15 yards and giving the Hawkeyes an automatic first down at the Iowa 23.

The Gophers did manage to wake the crowd with only 98 seconds remaining when Weber threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker. That capped a 15-play, 96-yard drive. Minnesota botched the two-point conversion attempt, and the score stood 21-16. Cleveland recovered Monroe’s on-side kick, and the Hawkeyes downed the ball three times as the game clock expired, and the players rushed the Minnesota sideline to reclaim Floyd of Rosedale trophy that had been lost the year before when Glen Mason was coaching the Gophers. Unfortunately, the box in which the pig was stored broke and the pig tumbled out, but Floyd proved to be as resilient as the Hawkeyes and remained unblemished.

Brewster revealed that he asked his players if they “felt like you’ve been suck in the gut with a searing knife? Everybody did.” None were reported to have indicated they felt they were stabbed in the back. Brewster praised the efforts of his second-half defense he switched to a 4-6 alignment. “The vision is clear as to where we are going and how we’re going to get there.” He remarked.

With Brewster, the Gophers are at the crossroads. Will they follow the lead of Kirk Ferentz and go back to making bowl-game appearances, or will pursue the path made by Iowa’s Frank Lauterbur?

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