The Minnesota Golden Gophers have gotten off to another great start to the year because of a lackluster non-conference schedule, but now with Big Ten play beginning, we will see the real Golden Gophers. The Iowa Hawkeyes will be paying a visit to Minnesota in their first Big Ten game of the year as well, but the 3-1 Hawkeyes will likely be the favorite heading in given the effectiveness of their offense.
The Gophers displayed a quite different offense last week against San Jose State as they ran the ball a total of 67 times, due to the lack of experience of freshmen quarterback Mitch Leidner. Leidner is a native of Minnesota and made his first start of his career on Saturday, and only had eight career pass attempts heading into the game.
With their normal starting quarterback Philip Nelson still questionable for the game against the Hawkeyes, it is likely fans will see a similar read option offense again this week from the Gophers. Iowa did a good job containing Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch on the run in their first game of the season and if they can do the same to Leidner, the Gophers will be in trouble.
Leidner was only trusted to throw the ball 12 times against San Jose State, and against an even tougher Hawkeyes defense this week, expect the passing game to be a non-factor for the Gophers. As for the Hawkeyes, they have shown a very balanced offensive attack this season, but after the way David Fales torched the Gophers’ secondary last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock throws the ball over 30 times.
The run game for the Gophers will feature Leidner, who rushed the ball 24 times last week and David Cobb, the junior from Texas who broke out last week. On the year, Cobb is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, which is just a tad more than the second back on the depth chart, Roderick Williams Jr.
Together, the three of them rushed for 336 yards last week, and although Iowa has been stout against the run all year, I expect the Gophers to still rack up over 200 yards on the ground.
The key X-factor in this game, like it is with most games, is the turnover ratio and who wins the battle. The Gophers forced Fales into two key interceptions last week, whereas the Hawkeyes have forced five interceptions in their past three games combined.
Although the Gophers have the better record to date and the Hawkeyes were upset in Week 1, I still expect Iowa to come out with their solid offense and be the first team of the season to beat the Gophers.