MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For the second-straight season, Iowa ran all over Minnesota’s perfect nonconference record.
Welcome to the Big Ten, Gophers. This year wasn’t any less frustrating, either.
Jake Rudock threw for one touchdown and ran for another and the Hawkeyes dominated the Gophers on both sides of the ball in a 23-7 victory on Saturday.
“It hurts. It’s supposed to hurt. But we can’t let it affect this next week,” said safety Brock Vereen, whose interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter gave the Gophers a fighting chance, trailing by 13 at that point. “If we expect to go into Michigan and get a win there, it going to take a refocus.”
Mark Weisman rushed for 147 yards on 24 carries and Mike Meyer made three of his four field-goal attempts to help the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0) start the Big Ten with a bang. After losing their opener to Northern Illinois, they’ve outscored their last two opponents 82-10. Iowa converted eight of 14 third downs in this one.
Senior linebackers Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens led a stifling effort on defense, including interceptions by Kirksey and Morris of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson. Nelson hadn’t played in two weeks because of an injury, but he started ahead of Mitch Leidner for the Gophers (4-1, 0-1).
“We felt comfortable that if could play, he would. It was going to be his call,” coach Jerry Kill said. “We talked to him last night, and we talked to him before the game. He felt that he was 100 percent, that he’d be able to go.”
Nelson lost 18 yards on nine rushes and completed 12 of 24 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown to Derrick Engel, who had 67 yards on five catches.
“Anytime you lose, especially on homecoming against Iowa, it hurts,” Engel said.
Iowa outgained Minnesota 464-165 in total yards to keep the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for another year. The Hawkeyes have won 10 of the last 13 meetings, including last season when that 4-0 nonconference mark for Minnesota was buried beneath a bunch of powerful runs by Weisman in a 31-13 loss.
The Gophers were far more convincing with their first four victories this year, with an average of 41.8 points and 282.2 yards rushing per game, but this defeat was equally humbling and decisive.
Punter Peter Mortell, who averaged more than 45 yards on five attempts in the first half, was Minnesota’s best asset. But even when the Hawkeyes started deep in their own end, they were strong enough to escape. They went 80 yards in eight plays to score on Rudock’s scramble for 4 yards just inside the pylon. Two possessions later Rudock completed two passes for 85 yards, the latter a wide receiver screen to Damond Powell, who raced 74 yards untouched on his way to the end zone.
Marcus Jones took a late-third-quarter kickoff out of the end zone for 66 yards, setting up Minnesota’s first score. Nelson’s best throw came four plays later on a slant pattern to Engel for the 23-yard touchdown. Iowa quickly marched toward an answering score, but senior safety Brock Vereen darted in front of Tevaun Smith in the end zone to intercept Rudock and keep the Gophers in it.
Nelson’s keeper on fourth-and-1 gave extended the next drive, but on third-and-10 at their own 43 the sophomore had Engel open on a post route but overthrew him to prompt a punt.
Another significant step back for the Gophers was with their discipline. They were the least-penalized team in the conference entering the weekend, but they were flagged five times for 45 yards, including two costly false start infractions.
With this series having started in 1891 and these programs playing for the 107th time, the old-fashioned styles each team took with them to this game was fitting. But only the Hawkeyes held up their end of the bargain. They’ve yet to allow a rushing touchdown this year.
“Give all the credit to them. They did a good job shutting down our run game,” Nelson said. “We were forced to use the pass a little bit more. There were a couple of mistakes on my part where you’re rolling out, and they did a good job covering everything up and had somebody coming at me.”
Kill said he didn’t think the way the game developed allowed an opportunity to give Leidner some playing time, with Nelson unable to run much at all.
“We had to throw the ball and do those type of things, so we went with maturity, and that was the decision that was made,” Kill said.
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