MINNEAPOLIS - Floyd of Rosedale won’t be coming with the Gophers back to Minneapolis, and Minnesota’s road to a Big Ten West title got a lot tougher after a 27-22 loss to Iowa on Saturday in front of nearly 70,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The Gophers still haven't won in Iowa City since 1999, now 22 years. PJ Fleck drops to 0-5 against the Hawkeyes as Minnesota’s head coach, and the Gophers’ losing streak against the Hawkeyes increases to seven games. After signing a new seven-year contract to stay in Minnesota, Fleck and the Gophers have lost two straight.
Minnesota falls to 6-4 on the season, and 4-3 in the Big Ten West with two games left. The Gophers no longer control their own destiny in the Big Ten West, one game behind Iowa and Wisconsin, which beat Northwestern on Saturday.
"I just told them they’re not going to hang their heads, they’re not going to pout. We have two games left, and we don’t control our own destiny anymore. However, if this team (Iowa) stumbles and you win out, you’ve got a chance. That’s what’s going to be our focus," Fleck said after the loss.
It’s how the Gophers lost Saturday that will leave them salty for a while. Minnesota out-gained Iowa 409-277. The Gophers ran for 189 yards against the Hawkeyes’ top-10 rushing defense. They had the ball for more than 40 minutes, compared to Iowa’s 19:41. They didn’t turn the ball over against Iowa, which is top-five in the nation in turnover differential.
But they also settled for field goals on three red zone trips when they needed touchdowns, and didn’t get enough big plays from Tanner Morgan.
"I thought we played really good football for the most part against a top-15 team for a majority of the game. It came down to the final possession in a top-15 rivalry game, almost a shot at the end zone to go win it," Fleck said. "It’s so frustrating to say it, but it’s the next step. We got closer, and you’ve got to get closer before you can get over it."
Morgan finished 14-of-30 passing for 183 yards, and a 68-yard touchdown to Chris Autman-Bell that got the Gophers within 24-22 in the third quarter. But a two-point try to tie the game fell incomplete. With the game on the line in the final seconds, Morgan took a sack, fumbled and the clock ran out. The Hawkeyes went racing to grab Floyd, the 98-pound bronze pig, and celebrate another rivalry win.
Too many times, Morgan missed open receivers in critical spots, or had wide receivers drop throws that were on target. Morgan simply hasn't looked like the same player who helped lead the Gophers to an 11-2 record two years ago.
"I’ve got to play better. I’ve got to give our guys more opportunities to make plays," Morgan said.
The Gophers’ lone touchdown of the first half came from wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer, who hit Ko Kieft on a 4th-and-2 play for a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Gophers led 13-10 at the half after Justin Walley forced and recovered an Iowa fumble. It resulted in a Matthew Trickett field goal to end the half, after the Gophers ran the ball eight straight times.
Iowa took the lead back after Alex Padilla hit Charlie Jones, who beat Walley in coverage, for a 72-yard touchdown and 17-13 lead early in the third quarter. The Gophers cut it to 17-16 with a Trickett field goal, and Iowa answered with Keagan Johnson scoring from 27 yards out. Thomas Rush and Coney Durr had Johnson tackled for a loss on the play, but he broke free and scored. It gave the Hawkeyes a 24-16 lead with 12:49 left in the regulation.
Padilla, in his first career start, finished 11-of-24 passing for 206 yards and two scores. The Gophers’ defense limited Iowa to just 71 yards on the ground, 2.8 yards per carry and 4-of-12 on third downs.
The Gophers are now 30-4 under Fleck when leading at the half, and 5-2 this season.
That’s despite Minnesota pounding Iowa, ranked second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in rushing defense, in the run game. Ky Thomas led the Gophers with 29 carries for 126 yards. Mar’Keiese Irving had 17 carries for 80 yards. The Gophers had 83 offensive plays, running it 50 times for nearly four yards per carry.
The Gophers head to Indiana next Saturday. The Hoosiers lost 38-3 to Rutgers on Saturday, and are 0-7 in Big Ten play. Floyd is staying in Iowa City, and Minnesota's trophy case remains bare.
"Obviously it’s not a good feeling, can’t change it now. Have to learn from it and respond," Morgan said. "Gotta learn, gotta respond and gotta move forward."