Hensley: Hawkeyes never fell from Gopher punches

After Minnesota seemingly secured momentum against Iowa, the Hawkeyes always had an answer.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley calls an audible during Iowa's game against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers 48-31.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

Oct. 6 showed a lot about this Hawkeye football team, especially when it came to resilience.

Iowa jumped out to an early lead, scoring points on its opening drive for the first time all season (a concerning stat prior to the win). But more importantly, every time Minnesota seemed to wrangle any sort of momentum, Iowa answered, both on offense and defense.

Give credit to Nate Stanley. To me, Stanley put together one of his best games as a Hawkeye. Yes, he threw 5 touchdowns and no interceptions against Ohio State last season, but Iowa had control of the game from the get-go. This game was full of give-and-take, and after each of his two turnovers, he rebounded as well as the Hawkeyes could have asked.

Postgame, Stanley said his interception before halftime was a throw he’d like to have back, and I don’t blame him. It was a poor decision, yet Iowa came out swinging on its first drive of the second half, scoring a field goal.

Just four throws after tossing the questionable interception, Stanley lobbed a 26-yard toss to Brandon Smith, who made an incredible catch, the best catch I’ve seen him, or any of the receivers, make this season.

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Now, Iowa displayed similar resilience in its loss to Wisconsin, but this time, the Hawkeyes pulled out a win, and that’s exactly what they needed to not only bring the Floyd of Rosedale back where it belongs but to put the pressure on Wisconsin with its first conference win of the season.

With the win, however, two concerning points seemed to be overshadowed: Iowa’s defense and inability to gain any traction on the ground game.

With Iowa’s efforts to run the football, it just wasn’t there. The Hawkeyes had 106 yards on the ground, their second-lowest total of the season (just one more yard than the performance against Iowa State).

Whereas Iowa’s bread-and-butter lies in its running game setting up its passing attack, it was the opposite against the Gophers. Minnesota continued to load the box and force Iowa to pass, and when the Hawkeyes attempted to run against the heavy front, it didn’t work.

However, Iowa involved the running backs in the passing game (Ivory Kelly-Martin had 2 catches for 40 yards), which was a good sign.

But on defense, starting two freshman cornerbacks was a bold move by Kirk Ferentz, and at first, it seemed as though it wasn’t the best decision. Riley Moss, a first-year Hawkeye from Ankeny Centennial, gave up a big pass play and then followed up by getting scored on when Minnesota put its first points on the board.

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Minnesota’s fellow true freshman, quarterback Zack Annexstad, targeted whichever of his receivers fell under Moss’ coverage on defense; he picked on Moss for most of the first half, and it worked.

But when Iowa started to pull away, Annexstad regressed and looked like a freshman, forcing a few throws Moss’ way, and he capitalized. Two interceptions in your first career start doesn’t look too bad at all.

And that goes back to Iowa’s resilience. Both Moss and Julius Brents (who snagged an interception of his own on Saturday) stepped up later in the game and made big, momentum-swinging plays, similar to how Stanley bounced back after to throwing an interception and fumbling deep in Minnesota territory.

Iowa got what it needed: a win. But next week’s game, much like Saturday’s contest, won’t be a walk in the park. Indiana played Ohio State relatively close for three quarters, and it has been better than expected.

The Hoosiers rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten in passing yards allowed this season and have given up the most touchdowns through the air (12) in the conference. If I’m Iowa, I pick up right where I left off against Minnesota and bring the aerial attack to Bloomington.

Throw in another fake field goal for good measure, too.

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