ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers hope time is now to end Iowa losing streak

Minnesota has lost 7 straight to Iowa and 17 of the last 21

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck shows frustration in the first half of a game Nov. 16, 2019, against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. The host Hawkeyes won, 23-19.
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck shows frustration in the first half of a game Nov. 16, 2019, against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. The host Hawkeyes won, 23-19.
Aaron Lavinsky / TNS
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Fleck pulled back the plunger, released it and a silver ball shot up and pinged around inside a “Star Wars” pinball machine placed near the entryway to the coaches’ offices and meeting rooms within the Larson Football Performance Center.

It was an odd place for the old-school arcade game, considering the players’ lounge just down the hall is filled with such games, but the Gophers are always up to something like this.

MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
Six-year senior was named to all-Big Ten first team, but also lost conference award to Michigan's Blake Corum.
The award comes after a comeback season that saw the outside hitter lead the conference in kills per set (4.43) and points per set (449).
In September, Whalen was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Virginia Tech (7-1) was a 12-point favorite over Minnesota (4-3) and rolled to an easy victory.
Minnesota had aspirations to reach the Big Ten title game. But the Gophers lost crucial intra-division games to Purdue, Illinois and Iowa, and it cost them a Big Ten West championship.
The Gophers will be back in action on Wednesday, where they’ll take on Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at 7 p.m. at The Barn.
Minnesota is the No. 2 seed in its region and will play Friday at Maturi Pavilion.
The jersey features a combination of loom and beadwork designs reflecting both Dakota and Ojibwe heritage.
Win marks 1st time Minnesota has won the Axe in consecutive years since 1993-94
Minnesota seeks 1st back-to-back wins over Badgers in nearly 30 years

The Gophers head coach got in a quick game between media interviews on Nov. 7 but didn’t want to talk about what the heck was going on just yet. After the 31-3 win over Northwestern five days later, Fleck shared how a pinball machine metaphor came into play.

“I told our team coming into this week … we are going to have to pull back a little bit,” Fleck told reporters postgame inside Huntington Bank Stadium.

Fleck had cut back on the practice workload by almost 15% during the week, per Catapult tracking numbers, and his team speed shot up come Saturday, with the highest number of players reaching 19 and 20 miles per hour.

ADVERTISEMENT

The blowout of Northwestern was a prelude to this: Minnesota vs. Iowa in the Floyd of Rosedale rivalry game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. In addition to claiming the 100-pound bronze pig trophy, the Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) and Hawkeyes (6-4, 4-3) are looking to break a four-way tie for the Big Ten West division lead.

Fleck is 0-5 against the Hawkeyes since 2017; Minnesota has lost seven straight and 17 of the last 21 matchups.

To put his players in the best position, Fleck has been integrating player performance data into how the Gophers have practiced more than ever this season. It’s always been geared to be the most-prepared for right now — when rivalry-game results can determine division champions.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) falls to the field during the second quarter against Iowa on Nov. 13, 2020, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) falls to the field during the second quarter against Iowa on Nov. 13, 2020, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Hannah Foslien / TNS

The Hawkeyes have always been in Fleck’s way and have been playing at their best in November for years. Iowa comes into Saturday riding a 13-game winning streak during the month of November, a run that started in 2019 when the Hawkeyes ended Minnesota’s undefeated season.

In November 2020, the Gophers trailed Iowa 35-0 when Fleck called a timeout with 19 seconds left. He was trying to stave off a shutout with a meaningless touchdown, but Ferentz followed it with three straight timeouts.

“We figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here,” Ferentz said after Iowa’s 35-7 victory.

In November 2021, the Gophers’ 27-22 loss in Iowa City was defined by Fleck’s fickleness on fourth downs and its defense allowing three explosive plays. Two were big catches made by Charlie Jones, who transferred to Purdue this season.

“Those three (plays) have been on my mind,” Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said Wednesday. The most baffling of the three was when Gophers cornerback Coney Durr and defensive end Thomas Rush both hit Keagan Johnson for a short gain, but the Iowa receiver was able to stay on his feet and score from 27 yards out.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We had two people hit him and slide off of him like (he was) Houdini,” Rossi said.

This year, Iowa’s offense is one of the worst in the nation and its defense among the very best. The Hawkeyes offense has scored only 19 touchdowns and produced 12 plays over 20 yards in 10 games, both among the lowest totals in the country.

But Iowa’s defense has allowed only 14 touchdowns and has scored four defensive TDs of its own. Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca called it one of the best units he’s seen in years.

Iowa's Jack Koerner (28) celebrates a blocked field goal against Minnesota on Nov. 13, 2020, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Iowa's Jack Koerner (28) celebrates a blocked field goal against Minnesota on Nov. 13, 2020, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Hannah Foslien / TNS

Fleck said there is “a balance” between respecting the Hawkeyes defense and playing too cautious.

“They are kind of like one of those plant traps,” Fleck said on his KFXN-FM show Tuesday. “They just stay open, open, open and then the bug just can’t help himself. It goes in and gets the pollen and poof. It just swallows you up, and that is how they win a ton of games.”

But with what’s on the line, now is not the time to pull back — on pinball plungers, pinpoint play-calls or otherwise.

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
What to read next
After playing one season of junior college basketball at Central Lakes, Kam Givens has thrived as the leading scorer for the RCTC men's team this season.
Playing in what may be his professional home someday, Gophers rookie Logan Cooley put on a show, while Justen Close made an emphatic return from illness as Minnesota survived a strong challenge from the Sun Devils.
Similar to last week, the Gophers’ rivalry game on Saturday against Wisconsin will have more than Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line.
Kameron Givens plays a bigger role in second half as RCTC's leading scorer finishes with 21 points in comeback victory.