Work in Progress
October 6, 2018

The University of Minnesota football team continued an alarming trend in rivalry games while losing, 48-31, to the Iowa Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium. Gopher coach P.J. Fleck, in effect, held out a “Work in Progress” sign to reporters by cautioning them to not expect much of his team this season.

The coach is fond of comparing his squad to an NFL team forced to starting 15 rookies. “Don’t sacrifice what you want down the road for what you want right now,” he said, adding that it would be too easy to recruit junior college players and transfers.

“We have to be patient. It’s like planting crops. They’re all expected to grow at the same rate. That’s what you expect. But we have spotted growth right now. This row is growing a little faster now, and that row hasn’t grown yet. Another row is growing unbelievably. Until we grow as a team, the results will be similar [to the Iowa loss].

“I’m not mad that be lost. I’m disappointed. However, I saw a lot of growth.”

Very little of that growth was on display as the Hawkeyes jumped to a 14-0 lead on drives of 53 and 64 yards. According to Fleck, his young Gophers could have folded right there, and the final score would read “something like 64-0.”

Minnesota was to twice cut the Hawkeye lead to seven points, at 14-7 and 31-24, but Iowa quickly and efficiently responded with touchdowns to widen the gap and remind the 48,199 in attendance of who is sitting in the driver’s seat in this game.

Emphasis was added on a key play with three minutes left in the second quarter. The Gophers had the ball at mid-field and were forced to punt. Instead, punter Jacob Herbers was instructed to pass the ball in the direction of receiver Chris Autman-Bell. The ball fell incomplete and out of bounds. Fleck later said the play always worked when tried in practice.

Iowa responded with a 49-yard, five-play touchdown drive Th capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass from Nate Stanley to Nick Easley.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Two Gopher scores were set up by Iowa turnovers. The first came on a Jacob Huff interception of a Stanley pass that led to a Zack Annexstad touchdown pass to Tyler Johnson to cut the Hawkeye lead to 28-17 at the half. The second turnover came in the third quarter when Thomas Barber picked up a Stanley fumble and ran the ball to the Hawk three-yard line. From there Seth Green scored on a wildcat run to cut the visitors’ lead to 31-24.

Insulted, Stanley led the Hawkeyes on a nine-play drive after Ihmir Smith-Marsette returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Iowa 49-yard line. The touchdown was scored on a Stanley pass to All-America tight end Noah Fant.

The two touchdown lead turned out to be all that was needed, although Miguel Racinos added a field goal to make it 41-24 and all but guarantee a 17-point victory and continued possession of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

Iowa has won four in a row and 14 of the last 18 meetings between the two teams. The Hawkeyes are 10-0 since the start of the 2017 season when scoring 20 points or more.

The 79 points racked up on Saturday reminds one of the 1994 border battle that resulted in 91 points scored by both teams in the Metrodome. (Minnesota lost that one, too.)

Minnesota in 1984 was coached by Jim Wacker and quarterbacked by Tim Schade. Scores of 49-37 and 38-22 were common that season (the Gophers were 1-7 in the Big Ten). Wacker was unable to field a team that could effectively play defense.

On Saturday, Annexstad threw 33 passes for a total of 218 yards. Schade in 1994 had 365 yards passing against Iowa but he, too, was on the losing side in a shoot-out.

Any more 48-31 games this year, and reporters may start referring to the Gopher coach as P.J. Wacker.

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