Somehow, the game came down to a 4th-and-15 situation.
A poor offensive performance by the Gophers was about to be erased as quarterback Mitch Leidner marched his team — now at Iowa’s 18-yard line — down the field.
Iowa was up seven with under 50 seconds left, and Leidner was looking to redeem himself from what was going to be his worst game of the season.
Leidner’s pass sailed into the end zone and was batted away by Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin. The Hawkeyes ran out the clock from there to win 14-7, and rushed over to their sideline to keep the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Iowa City Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
“This is two states battling against each other, so it is disappointing,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “Great ballgame as [it] stayed close until the end, and both sides battled.”
Iowa (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) took a 14-7 lead on a one-play drive in the fourth quarter.
Running back Akrum Wadley forced two missed tackles – one by Minnesota linebacker Jack Lynn and another by defensive back Jacob Huff – and ran for an easy 54-yard touchdown.
The Hawkeyes made a 2-point conversion, and held on from there to defeat Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten).
“We’ve got to make the tackle. If we make the tackle, we’re good,” Claeys said.
The game was one to forget for Leidner.
The redshirt senior quarterback finished with 13 completions on 33 attempts, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leidner’s 39.4 completion percentage was his worst since Nov. 29, 2014 when he only completed 27.8 percent of his passes against Wisconsin.
“They were just squeezing the pocket, and the protection wasn’t any good, and I think that leads to some inaccuracies,” Claeys said. “It wasn’t pass interference, they were tight on our receivers and physical on our receivers and we didn’t have as big of windows as we’ve had in the past.”
The Gophers took a 7-6 lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by running back Shannon Brooks midway through the third quarter.
The running game was the only area where the Gophers saw any kind of success, but the group of Rodney Smith, Kobe McCrary and Brooks finished with just 22 attempts and 101 yards.
The struggle was especially apparent in the second half, as the trio only had nine touches.
“I think the holes were there,” Brooks said. “Maybe [we needed to] try to break more tackles and stuff like that. We maybe missed a few holes on certain plays — things like that.”
Iowa’s first six points of the game came on two separate field goals: one in the second quarter and one in the third. The two field goals gave Iowa a 6-0 lead before Brooks’s run.
The Hawkeyes had to settle for field goals both times, as they were in the red zone and could not get the touchdown.
“We did a good job keeping them out of the end zone in the first half and getting them off the field when we needed to,” said linebacker Nick Rallis. “Just one big play in there that we needed to stop and play a complete game.”
Defensively, it was one of Minnesota’s better games.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard finished with 142 yards on 17 completions and 31 attempts. He didn’t throw any touchdowns and had two interceptions.
The running game for the Hawkeyes was a different story. Iowa finished with 179 yards and the one key touchdown. Wadley had 107 yards on 14 attempts.
The game-winning drive that wasn’t for Minnesota came with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter.
Fans had already exited but the Gophers kept it interesting by completing three straight passes for a combined 52 yards.
Leidner had an incomplete pass but then found wide receiver Brian Smith for a 23-yard gain to put the Gophers at Iowa’s 13-yard line.
A false start penalty Minnesota back five yards, and Leidner followed with three straight incompletions to give the ball back to Iowa.
“We got whipped up front. The offensive line, we couldn’t create some space and on the pass protection, it probably was a lot … tighter,” Claeys said. “On those days you get whipped up front, you don’t have a very good chance.
Here's how all of Minnesota's drives ended today:— Mike Hendrickson (@MHendrickson18) October 8, 2016
Minnesota ended the day with eight penalties. They are now averaging 8.6 a game, up three from last year.
The last time the Gophers scored seven or fewer points in a game was against Northwestern in a 27-0 loss last season.
The Gophers are one of two teams in the Big Ten Western Division with an 0-2 record in conference play.
“This is not something we planned on doing, losing to somebody in our division,” said linebacker Jonathan Celestin. “We can still reach [the Big Ten Championship] but it’s going to be a long road basically.”