The 4-0 Golden Gophers travel south to take on the 2-2 Hawkeyes on Saturday. The past dozen years, it seems like the Hawkeyes have been riding momentum into this rivalry game, while Minnesota has been in a tailspin. Well, 2012 sees the rolls reversed, as the Gophers are off to their best start since 2008, and the Hawkeyes come limping into the Big10 season at 2-2 after losing at home to Central Michigan last week. Despite all of that, Iowa is a 7-point favorite.
The key matchup of the game is how Minnesota’s front seven will do against the Iowa running game. Despite their struggles, Iowa’s running game is its usual downhill, well-oiled self. This year’s feature back (after the first eight guys went down) is Mark Weisman. He came into the fall camp as the 3rd string fullback, but since being named the starter has gone for 330 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 2 games. Meanwhile, the Gophers defense is built on speed, and has sacrificed size to do so. The Gophers defensive ends are very small, and their linebackers are also on the small side. Both starting safeties are listed at under 200 pounds, which is small in today’s world. The ability to stop the run and put eight or nine in the box will be the second most important aspect of the game (after the turnover battle).
Injuries are another big piece for the Gophers, as it appears Max Shortell will make his second consecutive start in the absence of MarQueis Gray. Gophers center Zach Mottla is doubtful, left guard Tommy Olson is doubtful and nickel back Martez Shabazz is out. Patching together the O-line is going to be difficult against a solid D-line. If a third starter goes down along the line during the game, it could get real ugly up front.
If the game is close, and low scoring, Iowa gets my nod as the favorite, as they have one of the best kickers in the country and a solid punter. Meanwhile the Gophers are one of the worst kicking and punting teams in the nation.
Both teams are at the crossroads…. a win for Iowa over rival Minnesota puts them back on track with a 1-0 conference start, and momentum heading into the Big10 season despite the poor the start. A loss leaves them at 2-3 overall, and a trophy case empty yet again.
For Minnesota, a loss to a struggling Iowa team will leave the fan base second guessing what progress Kill has actually made. A win really cranks the momentum to new levels. The Gophers would go into their bye week 5-0, and ranked—or right on the edge of—the Top 25. Moreover, they will have secured Floyd of Rosedale for the third consecutive year, and notched their first win at Iowa since 1999. With just 12 games a year, and eight Big10 games, Week 1 of Big10 play reinforces just how important each and every week in college football can be.