Gophers get grounded
Iowa hopes to slow Minnesota's running game
By Chuck Schoffner
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The numbers dog Chad Greenway like a headache that won't go away: Minnesota 337, Iowa 6.
Those were the rushing totals when Iowa and Minnesota played last year. Amazingly, Greenway and his Iowa teammates won that game.
Greenway is a linebacker, so he can't do anything about improving the Hawkeyes' rushing figure. But he sure hopes to do something about Minnesota's when the Gophers visit Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, the regular-season finale for both bowl-bound teams.
"It was pretty easy to remember that game," Greenway said. "We probably hadn't given up that many yards in six games last year at some point. To have them get that in one game was pretty special for them, because that was an incredible rushing performance."
One of the backs who contributed to that total, Laurence Maroney, is still around. Maroney ripped the Hawkeyes for 156 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns, including a 79-yarder.
But he's thinking more about his game at Iowa in 2003, when he managed 69 yards in 24 carries in a 40-22 loss.
"That's the game I'll probably never forget in my college career," Maroney said. "I felt like I let the team down. I felt embarrassed because they shut me down. It was my first year here, so I've wanted to go back and play there because I feel that I have something to prove."
Maroney, who has rushed for 1,345 yards to rank third nationally, is healthy now after missing last Saturday's 41-18 victory over Michigan State because of an injured right ankle. The Gophers didn't miss him, though, because the team's No. 3 back, sophomore Amir Pinnix, rushed for 206 yards. Pinnix had carried only twice in the first six Big Ten games.
"What's that say when Maroney's not playing and their third-team guy is the player of the week?" Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That just shows you what kind of scheme they have."
It also shows what kind of offensive line that coach Glen Mason has assembled. Minnesota (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) leads the nation in rushing at 295 yards a game. Everyone knows the Gophers are going to run, but they keep making yardage. They've been slowed only once, managing 113 yards in a 44-14 loss to Penn State.
Minnesota runs so well that Maroney's backup, Gary Russell, needs only 33 yards to reach 1,000 for the year. If that happens, the Gophers would be the first team in the country with two 1,000-yard rushers in three consecutive seasons.
"The challenge is there," Greenway said. "Everybody knows they rush for 300 yards a game. But I think as a defense we know there's really only one game we've given up a ton of yards rushing and that's Ohio State."
Iowa won last year's game because it forced four turnovers and Drew Tate threw for 333 yards while constantly eluding Minnesota's pass rush.
"Sometimes he is almost like magic back there," Mason said.
Tate has passed for 2,131 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and the Hawkeyes have added a running game with Albert Young, who's second to Maroney in the Big Ten and fifth nationally with 1,197 yards.
"Check out the statistics and then watch the film. This young man they got from New Jersey is pretty darn good," Mason said.
Both teams are jockeying for better position in the bowl picture. The winner would have a good shot at the Alamo Bowl and possibly the Outback Bowl if the Big Ten gets two teams in BCS games.
"For our bowl game, it's a big difference," Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito said. "Our goal in the beginning was to play for the Big Ten (title). We didn't make that obviously, but when we lost to Ohio State, we said it's our goal to win these next three. Then we'd be 8-3 and see where that would take us."
Ferentz said he isn't worried about bowl games yet. But he is interested in how the Hawkeyes' record would look with a victory.
"To be 7-4 sounds a lot better than -5," he said. "Always has, always will. It's the best we can do at this point. It's as simple as that."