Though head coach P.J. Fleck said quarterback Demry Croft looked better and more composed than last game, Croft’s incomplete passes and red zone hiccups kept the Gophers from bringing home the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy this year.
Minnesota (4-4 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) lost to Iowa (5-3 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) Saturday night at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, marking the third loss in a row to the Hawkeyes and the eighth loss in a row in Iowa City.
“I thought [Croft] played way better this week than he did last week,” Fleck said. “Now again, we didn’t win the game. And did he have a winning performance? Probably not. But I thought he played better this week than he did last week.”
Croft threw 9-29 for 139 yards and an interception in the loss on Saturday night. He rushed 11 times for a net total of zero yards.
The interception came at a critical point. When the Gophers were in a first-and-10 situation at the Iowa 14-yard line, Croft hit his receiver, but the ball bounced off him and Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepted it in the Iowa end zone for a touchback.
That wasn't the only red zone play where Croft couldn’t convert.
One drive before the interception, Croft overthrew tight end Nate Wozniak, because Wozniak stopped running on a fourth-and-one situation. Wozniak was wide open in the middle of the end zone, but couldn’t use his 6-foot-10 stature to jump high enough to reel in the overthrown ball and the Gophers left that drive, and first quarter, empty handed.
“In order to win those games, you have to capitalize when you get down there in the red zone and come away with points,” said Gophers running back Rodney Smith. “And we didn’t tonight.”
Croft’s favorite target Saturday night was wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who he threw to 13 times, completing four of those passes for 92 yards.
“He’s growing. I’ll say that he’s feeling more comfortable, [and] he’s more relaxed,” Johnson said. “After each possession, we just go over there and tell him, ‘just stay relaxed, stay calm, let the game play.’”
Croft’s longest completion was a 63-yard completion to Johnson at 5:34 left in the game. Then, Croft took over and threw three incomplete passes.
Croft threw an incomplete to Johnson, ran five yards himself, and threw another incomplete pass. Then, on the make-or-break fourth down play, he was sacked for a two yard loss by Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson to end the game.
“We were just one play away, and we just didn’t make the plays tonight,” Smith said. “But I’m proud of the way [Croft] carried himself today.”
Conor Rhoda, the quarterback who played the majority of snaps up until the second half of the Michigan State game, was never called to the field, even after a first half performance by Croft that saw him throw 5-18 for 46 yards and an interception.
Now, after two games of less-than-stellar statistics, Fleck made it sound like Rhoda is out and Croft is in for next game, too.
“[Croft] didn’t look like a panicked, jumpy quarterback out there tonight,” Fleck said. “I thought he held his own, he was leading the football team. I think he took major strides tonight. But not enough strides to win the football game.”