Nov. 11, 2003
Coach Kirk Ferentz has had a saying this year that adequately describes the last few weeks for his Hawkeye football team.
“We haven’t had many routine ground balls,” he said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
It would be hard to disagree.
First, the Hawkeyes battled injuries that took out running backs Jermelle Lewis and Albert Young.
Then, more injuries afflicted the now 20th-ranked Iowa squad including maladies that cut out leading safety Bob Sanders and leading receiver Maurice Brown from the middle of the season. In fact, it’s hard to find a player who hasn’t been taken out of action at one point or another.
Now, with many of the former casualties returning to the field Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium, Iowa must clean up its game – reducing penalties and executing when the opportunities present themselves – before facing No. 19 Minnesota.
But the battle for Floyd of Rosedale, the trophy that goes to the winner of the game, carries with it much more than bragging rights over a 68-year-old bronze pig. The contest that will be waged at 11 a.m. and broadcast before a national cable audience on ESPN will have huge implications for both sides’ bowl hopes.
With a win, the Gophers close their season with a four-game winning streak and a 10-2 overall record, giving them hope of a possible piece of a Big Ten Championship, while dashing the Hawkeyes’ hopes of a major bowl bid.
However, if Iowa pulls out a win for the third consecutive season, it stays in contention for a major bowl game come winter, while restoring the confidence of an admittedly beleaguered crew coming off a tough 27-14 loss to Purdue last week.
Moreover, the game will be the last time 24 seniors get to play in front of a home crowd. The class is the first Ferentz graduates.
“I think both teams have a lot at stake. Minnesota is on track for a fantastic season. They’re on a roll right now and have great momentum going. They’re playing for a lot, and our guys are playing for a lot too. I’m sure those things enter into their minds. All in all, it’s going to shape up for a great weekend.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
“I think both teams have a lot at stake,” said Ferentz. “Minnesota is on track for a fantastic season. They’re on a roll right now and have great momentum going. They’re playing for a lot, and our guys are playing for a lot too. I’m sure those things enter into their minds. All in all, it’s going to shape up for a great weekend.
“But when it’s all said and done, it’s all about the feeling you have after the game. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Statistically, the game comes down to whether to the Big Ten’s best scoring offense can be stopped by the best scoring defense in the conference. It also comes down to whether the nation’s fifth-best rushing defense can take out the top-ranked Gopher rushing offense.
Minnesota has recorded 60 touchdowns, 57 extra points and 11 field goals for 450 points, averaging 40.9 points per game to lead the conference. Yet, the nationally-ranked Iowa scoring defense allows only 15 points on average to beat out Ohio State by three-tenths of a point to pace the Big Ten.
Minnesota’s rushing attack, led by Marion Barber with 1,134 yards on 135 carries for the season, is the best in conference by far and No. 1 in the nation. It averages 303.9 yards per game and has posted 40 touchdowns on 577 attempts crossing 3,343 yards. Yet, the Hawkeyes have held 10 opponents to 802 rushing yards and just four touchdowns.
“They’re an excellent football team,” said Ferentz. “The statistics don’t lie in this case, that’s for certain. I think if you look back a year ago, we played a team that was still growing and what have you. I think a big turning point for their team was what happened during their bowl preparation. They went down and played a tremendous game against Arkansas. To me ever since then, that’s given them a thrust forward.”
“The biggest things for us are mistakes and missed opportunities, especially offensively. The penalties have been very untimely and very hurtful to us. When we have an opportunity to make plays – and we had three or four of them last week – we need to make them, because we’re not as endowed as we were a year ago.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
But what force on Earth could create those statistics for Minnesota?
“I think first and foremost they have good personnel,” said Ferentz. “They’re very, very athletic. They have a great scheme, and they’re well-coached.”
And how will Iowa stop them?
“We really have to be good at our keys. We really have to be moving,” said Ferentz. “The biggest things for us are mistakes and missed opportunities, especially offensively. The penalties have been very untimely and very hurtful to us. When we have an opportunity to make plays – and we had three or four of them last week – we need to make them, because we’re not as endowed as we were a year ago.
“I think the biggest thing is for our guys to concentrate and get the routine in practice down and hopefully play with a little more confidence, when those things come up.”
HAWK NOTE: If you want tickets to Saturday’s big match-up between 19th-ranked Minnesota and No. 20 Iowa inside legendary Kinnick Stadium, click HERE! Hurry, limited seats remain for the Hawkeyes’ last home game!
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com