IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the first time all season, the Gophers got punched in the mouth.
And they curled up.
Iowa embarrassed Minnesota 31-13 in a game that was over before halftime.
Hawkeyes players rushed the Gophers sideline and reclaimed Floyd of Rosedale — the bronze pig awarded to the winner of the rivalry matchup each year — as the final seconds ticked away Saturday.
Floyd will now stay in Iowa City, Iowa, until at least next season after spending the past two years in the Twin Cities.
“It hurts,” senior linebacker Mike Rallis said after the loss in Iowa City. “There were a lot of people back in Minnesota counting on us … and we didn’t get the job done.”
Iowa (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) was led by running back Mark Weisman and an opportunistic defense that forced four Minnesota turnovers.
Weisman bowled through the Gophers’ front seven, rushing for 177 yards and one touchdown — doing nearly all of his damage in the first half.
Not bad for a transfer from Air Force that played fullback to start the season.
“His fullback days may be numbered,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Weisman. “He may be retiring from that spot.”
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg entered the rivalry matchup with just one touchdown on the season, but he was efficient through the air and controlled the pace of the game.
He was the antithesis of Max Shortell.
Minnesota (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) was gifted some chances in the first quarter, but Shortell and the offense couldn’t grasp control of the game.
Shortell was vilely inaccurate and overthrew a pair of would-be touchdowns on the first two drives.
“We missed some shots, and that would have been the big change in momentum,” Shortell said. “It took us until the second half until we started getting first downs on a regular basis.”
Weisman didn’t need a half to get things rolling.
He shot out of the starting blocks and gained more than 100 yards in the first quarter. Still, the Hawkeyes led just 3-0.
Then came the second stanza, and Iowa exploded offensively.
Weisman pounded in an 8-yard touchdown run to start the quarter, and on the ensuing possession, Iowa got a little creative.
With all the focus on the 225-pound running back, Ferentz dialed up a flea flicker that caught the Gophers’ defense completely off-guard.
“It was a good play by them … but at the same time we didn’t put ourselves in the right position to stop the good plays,” junior safety Brock Vereen said.
Minnesota bit hard on the fake, and Vandenberg threw an easy 47-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jordan Cotton.
Vandenberg added a 1-yard touchdown plunge late in the half, and the Hawkeyes took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
“I thought we played a little bit tight early, but I think most of it had to do with momentum,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “They got some momentum early in the game, and we couldn’t get it switched off.”
Minnesota showed its resolve out of the break with an impressive 79-yard drive capped by an Isaac Fruechte 9-yard touchdown grab.
The Gophers had multiple opportunities to get back into the game, but they failed to capitalize.
Though Minnesota struggled to find a rhythm, its defense didn’t allow a point in the second half.
“We just played up to our ability [in the second half],” Rallis said. “It wasn’t a magical potion that we took in the locker room.
“I’m proud of our guys for fighting … but I don’t take a lot of moral victories from a loss like that,” Rallis said.
Minnesota’s offense allowed Iowa’s only score after halftime. Christian Kirksey rubbed salt in the wound with a fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown.
Shortell acknowledged that he forced that particular throw but admitted he was tired after the game.
The Gophers tacked on an insignificant touchdown late, but it was too little, way too late.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities out there,” Vereen said. “It’s a lesson for us.”
Minnesota will have a bye next week before it faces Northwestern for the homecoming game on Oct. 13 at TCF Bank Stadium.
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