Gophers P.J. Fleck on what makes Iowa tough to beat: ‘They’re Iowa’

P.J. Fleck knows the numbers when it comes to playing Iowa for Floyd of Rosedale.

Other than the Little Brown Jug with Michigan, it’s the one trophy game Fleck has failed to win in his seventh year with the Gophers. Fleck is 0-6 against Iowa, with three of the last four losses coming by a combined 12 points.

The Gophers haven’t beaten Iowa since 2014, a 51-14 trouncing led by Mitch Leidner and Maxx Williams at then TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota hasn’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999, and they’ve won their just twice in the last 34 years. 

Kirk Ferentz does it how he’s always done it with the Hawkeyes: Dominate on defense, create turnovers, get defensive and/or special teams touchdowns and don’t let your offense lose the game. This year, they’re 6-1, ranked No. 24 in the country and have the inside track to a Big Ten West title after beating Wisconsin last weekend. They won the West in 2015 and 2021, but it feels like they give themselves a chance every year.

So what makes them so tough? They have eight interceptions on the season, are No. 27 in total defense, No. 47 in rushing defense and No. 31 in passing yards allowed. They don’t let opponents score, No. 10 nationally at 14.9 points per game. It's not aesthically pleasing, but it works for Ferentz, who is in his 25th season in Iowa City.

"They’re Iowa. They understand who they are more than most teams, they stick to who they are more than most teams and they beat you in every area," Fleck said Monday. "They’re very efficient, they don’t turn the ball over and their special teams are a huge factor in how they win."

They’re 6-1 despite having the No. 130-ranked offense in the country. Michigan transfer Cade McNamara was the starting quarterback until suffering a season-ending knee injury. Deacon Hill, Wisconsin’s No. 3 quarterback last year, is now the starter. In six games, his numbers won’t wow you. He’s 27-of-70 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Iowa’s leading receiver, tight end Erick All, is done for the season after tearing his ACL at Wisconsin. That leaves Luke Lachey and Nico Ragaini as their tight end weapons. The Hawkeyes are built to run the ball, led by Leshon Williams and Kaleb Johnson. Williams had 25 carries for 179 yards and an 82-yard touchdown at Wisconsin. Johnson has 260 yards and two touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are averaging nearly four yards per carry this season.

Fleck says containing the Hawkeyes’ run game comes down to having gap discipline.

"You fit the gap and your eyes get in the wrong spot one time, they gap you out. One guy gets his eyes out of the gap, it’s a touchdown. Some guy doesn’t have their eyes in the right spot and you take the cheese somewhere, it comes out for 70," Fleck said. "They just do it over and over and over and over. Their defense is so good that even if they score one touchdown, that’s going to be good enough to beat you."

Fleck’s hope is that the return of Cody Lindenberg at linebacker, Darius Taylor at running back and an effective game by Athan Kaliakmanis is enough for the Gophers to bring Floyd of Rosedale back to Minneapolis for the first time in nine years.