MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Duane Bennett’s touchdown run with 4:31 left lifted Minnesota to 27-24 victory Saturday over 24th-ranked Iowa, as the Hawkeyes lost another fourth-quarter lead while falling to the rival Gophers for the first time in four years.
DeLeon Eskridge had 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries for Minnesota (3-9, 2-6 Big Ten), which outmuscled Iowa on both sides of the ball.
Freshman Marcus Coker carried 21 times for 90 yards for Iowa (7-5, 4-4), which closed the regular season with three straight losses of four points or fewer.
After the Gophers went ahead, Coker broke free, then started to brake near midfield where he was crushed by Troy Stoudermire, forcing the ball out and giving it to the Gophers at their 45. They drained the clock and celebrated by racing across the field to fetch the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, the bronze pig these border-state schools play for each fall.
The Hawkeyes, who came into the game ranked sixth nationally among FBS teams in rushing defense, got beat up front by a Gophers team that entered second-to-last in the Big Ten on the ground.
Bennett had 63 yards on 11 carries, and MarQueis Gray — also arguably the team’s best wide receiver — scored on a 14-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Gray is the kind of mobile, shifty quarterback that has given the Hawkeyes trouble at times this season, but he showed some power, too. He came in for Adam Weber on third-and-4 late on the go-ahead drive, and — shuffling to his right — he made Adrian Clayborn whiff and bowled over Greg Castillo for the first down.
Then Bennett burst through the middle for the go-ahead score from 6 yards out.
Ricky Stanzi, whose senior season has been his best statistically, ranking sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, didn’t have his usual touch for Iowa and finished 10 for 22 for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos scored twice, including an 88-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, but the Hawkeyes fell to the Gophers for just the second time in the last 10 years.
With snow piles in the corners, remnants of a couple of storms since Minnesota’s last home game on Oct. 30, TCF Bank Stadium hosted a game with a real winter feel for the first time. Hawkeyes fans filled in a lot of the seats vacated by frustrated Gophers fans, giving both teams plenty of support as the sun set on the cold campus and darkness set in for the second half.
The Hawkeyes were in an undesirable situation, following consecutive close losses to Northwestern and Ohio State the last two weeks to fall out of the Big Ten race and lose a chance to return to the BCS.
The Hawkeyes have been only a couple of plays from still being in the national championship picture, but that’s the rub — true contenders can clear late-game hurdles and come away with wins. This Iowa team has been missing that extra edge from last season, particularly down the stretch.
Their five defeats have come by a total of 18 points, and all four of their Big Ten losses came when a veteran defense allowed late fourth-quarter drives.
The Gophers brought a go-for-broke approach to the game, trying to give their outgoing seniors a chance to touch one of those famous trophies that have persistently eluded this program over the past decade.
After Eric Ellestad capped a long opening drive with a short field goal, he recovered his own onside kick and the Gophers moved down the field with ease to make it 10-0 on Gray’s scoring scamper.
Though the Gophers didn’t take advantage of the gift, the Hawkeyes gave them a first down on a punt when they had too many men on the field. Stanzi fumbled a snap at his own 22 that the Gophers jumped on and turned into a touchdown three plays later for a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
Iowa even gave up a sack to the Gophers, who entered the game tied for last in the entire FBS level in that category.
Eskridge lost a fumble, forced by Broderick Binns and recovered by Brett Greenwood at the Iowa 30 near the end of the third quarter, and Stanzi marched the Hawkeyes forward for the go-ahead touchdown toss to Marvin McNutt. But the Gophers, buoyed by a comeback victory at Illinois two weeks ago, weren’t deterred.
The Gophers used their bye week last week to get their offensive line healthy, bringing senior starters right guard Matt Carufel and left tackle Dom Alford back and clearing big off-tackle holes for Eskridge and Bennett.
Weber got them in range, Gray got the big first down and Bennett finished it off.
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