Last week, the Gophers upended No. 5 Penn State's perfect season with a 31-26 victory at TCF Bank Stadium. On Saturday, Minnesota was on the receiving end of an upset.
A perfect season was not to be as No. 7 Minnesota (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) fell to No. 23 Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) 23-19. The Gophers dropped their fifth consecutive game in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale against the Hawkeyes, and still have not won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999.
"We fell down early and it took us out of our rhythm," said head coach P.J. Fleck. "It came down to the blocking, tackling and execution of plays and they did a better job of that than we did."
After receiving the opening kick, Iowa running back Tyler Goodson ripped off a 26-yard run on a well-designed misdirection play, fooling the Minnesota defense. Five plays later, following a fourth-and-one conversion, redshirt freshman Nico Ragaini took a pass from Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley 21 yards for the game's opening score.
Trailing 6-0, Minnesota responded with a 12-play drive but came up empty after redshirt freshman Brock Walker missed a 50-yard field goal attempt. Iowa then marched back down the field, adding another score by way of a Goodson rushing touchdown.
Both teams' offenses drove the ball with ease in the first half. The difference was the Gophers stalled in the red zone while the Hawkeyes managed to convert for touchdowns. Behind by two scores, the Gophers moved the ball 87 yards in 12 plays but had to settle for a Walker field goal.
On Iowa's third drive of the game, Stanley led the Hawkeyes to their third touchdown. The senior quarterback passed for 58 of the drives 69 yards, capping it with a five-yard touchdown to junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette making the score 20-3.
"It was just not us being prepared," senior Thomas Barber said of the defense's slow start. "They just came and hit us in the mouth."
The teams traded punts, giving the ball back to Minnesota with 39 seconds left in the first half. Working with no timeouts, Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completed two passes to get the Gophers inside the Iowa 10-yard line. Once again though, Minnesota failed to reach the end zone. A Walker field goal bounced off the upright and through the goal posts to cut the deficit to 14 points at the break.
"Things weren't necessarily going great for us," Fleck said. "Going into halftime with the ball, I felt like my message would be way different if we got the points."
It took the Gophers just 3:25 to finally break through after receiving the ball to start the second half. Receiver Tyler Johnson found a seam through the Iowa defense and Morgan found him on a play action pass for a 28-yard score. Johnson finished the game with nine receptions for 170 yards to lead the team.
"[Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca] did a great job with the game plan," Johnson said. "We were able to get receivers in the right spots. Tanner did a great job stepping up in the pocket and putting us in the right positions."
After an Iowa punt, Johnson played a crucial role on the ensuing Gopher possession. With a chance to tie the game Johnson hauled in a 30-yard reception on a third-and-six to get Minnesota into the red zone. However, he dropped what would have been a fourth-down conversion four plays later to turn the ball over on downs.
"That was on nobody but me," Johnson said of the drop. "Tanner did a great job, the offensive line did a great job protecting. I was able to create separation. I just have to make that play, that's it."
Early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota's offense got another chance to tie the game after the defense forced a punt, but could make nothing of the opportunity. A fair catch interference penalty on the punt gave Iowa a short field. Taking advantage, the Hawkeyes tacked on a field goal with 7:13 remaining to restore their lead to two scores.
The Gophers went down fighting, adding a one-yard touchdown run from redshirt senior Rodney Smith. Minnesota got one last possession with 1:52 remaining but consecutive Iowa sacks on first and second down sealed the game.
Despite the defeat, Minnesota still maintains a one-game lead in the Big Ten West standings. With a victory at Northwestern next Saturday and a Wisconsin loss to Purdue, the Gophers would clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.
"This is one game, that's all that means." Fleck said. "Everything we want is right in front of us. Nothing has changed."