Gophers: Is 2023 the year P.J. Fleck finally beats Iowa?

Go to the Hall of Fame area at the University of Minnesota football complex, and you’ll see a noticeably empty space in one of the trophy cases.

P.J. Fleck has wins over Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and Penn State for the Governor’s Liberty Bell. He’s 0-3 against Michigan for the Little Brown Jug. But there’s one that he’s especially craved since arriving to Minnesota in 2017: A 98-pound pig named Floyd of Rosedale.

Fleck and the Gophers head to Iowa City this week for the annual rivalry game. He’s 0-6 against Iowa, and the Hawkeyes have won eight straight in the series. Minnesota hasn’t won since a dominating 51-14 effort in 2014 at then TCF Bank Stadium. Fleck saw the celebration the first time the Gophers got back home from winning at Wisconsin.

The party could be even bigger if they bring Floyd of Rosedale home on Saturday against a 6-1 Iowa team ranked No. 24 in the country. The Gophers have won in Iowa City just twice in the last 34 years, in 1999 and 1989.

"Obviously it means a lot. It means a lot to our fan base, it means a lot to our players, it means a lot to our state. We haven’t won there since 1999, we’ve won two times in 40 years. That’s not a lot," Fleck said Monday at his weekly news conference. Games have been really close the last few years, that’s what rivalries should be. Iowa has obviously had the upper hand over the years, but we’re prepared to do everything we can to be 1-0. It’s a one-game championship season, it’s a huge rivalry game. We talk to our players about what it means, they know how close we’ve been. They know the facts that everybody reports, we’ve just got to go in and play our best game offense, defense special teams. This team still has not played their best football yet. That’s my responsibility and my job to get them to."

Perhaps most frustrating for Fleck and the Gophers is three of the last four match-ups have been more than winnable. Minnesota was driving for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter last season, gave the ball to Mo Ibrahim 14 times in 16 plays, including 10 straight touches. On that last carry, he lost a fumble at the Iowa 9-yard line. The Gophers lost 13-10.

The Gophers couldn’t finish drives in a 27-22 loss at Iowa in 2021. Minnesota took a 9-0 record to Iowa City in 2019, and if Tyler Johnson catches a fourth down pass for a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter, the Gophers probably win their first Big Ten Wes title in school history.

Minnesota is tired of losing to Iowa. Fleck is ready to get that blemish off his coaching record. He’s seen how rivalry wins can excite the fan base. If there’s ever a year to beat Iowa, a team that relies on its defense and special teams, this is the year. They’d love nothing more than to take Floyd from the Iowa sideline and leave Kinnick Stadium with the trophy. Fleck has known what it’s like to play Iowa since being a graduate assistant at Ohio State, and even playing at Northern Illinois.

"I don’t think it’s hard to prepare for a game against Iowa because they know what those games entail. You know what you’re in for, it’s a true rivalry game. Throw the records out the window, throw the rankings out the window and both teams want to be 1-0 at the end," Fleck said. "They’ve gotten us the last few years for sure."


Fleck on Monday did not offer much of an update on linebacker Cody Lindenberg, and running back Darius Taylor. Lindenberg has not played yet this season after an injury late in fall camp. Taylor has missed two straight games with a leg injury suffered at Northwestern.

Lindenberg was considered the heart of the defense entering the season, and was the team’s top returning tackler. Taylor had earned three straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Fleck was asked Monday if the plan for both of them was to practice this week. We’ll find out their status at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

"That’s always the plan. I’m not the trainer so the plan for me is always to practice them if we can," Fleck said. "The injury report will come out two hours before kickoff."