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Minnesota (4-0) at Iowa (2-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kinnick Stadium (70,585) -- Iowa City, Iowa. Television: ESPN, ESPN 2. Home Record: Minnesota 3-0, Iowa 1-2. Away Record: Minnesota 1-0, Iowa 0-0. Neutral Record: Minnesota 0-0, Iowa 1-0. Conference Record: Minnesota 0-0, Iowa 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 61-42-2.
GAME NOTES: The Big Ten Conference slate gets underway on Saturday afternoon for two long-time rivals, as the Iowa Hawkeyes play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota's season opened with a thrilling triple-overtime win over UNLV (30-27), and it followed that up with three consecutive wins at home against New Hampshire (44-7), Western Michigan (28-23) and Syracuse (17-10). The Gophers have now won five straight dating back to last season, and they have started 4-0 for the first time since 2008. Despite their hot start, they did not receive a single vote in this week's AP poll.
Iowa appeared to be on the verge of a 3-1 start last week when it hosted Central Michigan, but it fell victim to a last-second, 47-yard field goal to fall, 32-31. Kinnick Stadium has hardly been a home field advantage for the Hawkeyes thus far, as they've already lost two games there (also losing to rival Iowa State, 9-6, on Sept. 8).
This matchup, which awards the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy to the winner, marks the 106th all-time meeting between these two squads, with Minnesota holding a 61-42-2 advantage. The Gophers prevailed last October in Minneapolis, 22-21.
The Minnesota offense has shown plenty of signs of life in the early going this season, scoring nearly 30 points per game behind more than 400 total yards per game.
At quarterback, MarQueis Gray has played well (26-of-44, 398 yards, five TDs, INT), but he has seen less time under center as the games have gone on. Max Shortell (491 yards, four TDs, INT) played every snap in the Syracuse game, throwing for a career-high 231 yards.
No matter who's throwing him the ball, A.J. Barker has found a way to get open, catching 14 balls for 283 yards and four touchdowns. John Rabe has just eight catches, but he's been a reliable red-zone target with three touchdowns.
Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse for the Gophers out of the backfield, as his 81 carries ranks behind only Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Wisconsin's Montee Ball for tops in the conference. His consistency within the offense has resulted in plenty of production (361 yards, three TDs).
The defense has nice a great job keeping opponents off the scoreboard (16.8 ppg) and it has been effective against the run, holding foes to 128.5 rushing yards per game.
The unit has forced 10 turnovers in the early going (seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries). Derrick Williams has a pair of picks and also leads the team with 32 tackles.
The Gophers can also get after the quarterback, with D.L. Wilhite (4.5 sacks), RaShede Hageman (three sacks) and Michael Amaefula (2.5 sacks) making their presence felt in the opposition's backfield.
Unlike the Gophers, the Hawkeyes offense has been stuck in neutral so far, putting up pedestrian numbers in terms of scoring offense (20.5 ppg) and total offense (357.8 ypg). Although they've scored on 13-of-15 visits to the red zone, only six of those scores have been touchdowns.
A formidable running back duo has been the offense's most effective tool, with Mark Weisman (53 carries, 338 yards) and Damon Bullock (65 carries, 280 yards) both showing plenty of promise. Weisman also has six touchdowns, which ranks second in the conference.
Conversely, the passing game has struggled for Iowa. James Vanderberg has taken every snap this year, and although he is averaging more than 200 yards per game, only one of his 75 completions has been for a touchdown.
Despite their difficulties finding the end zone, Keenan Davis (20 catches, 258 yards) and Kevonte Martin-Manley (17 catches, 207 yards, TD) have proven to be reliable targets for Vandenberg.
With the offense struggling to score puts, the defense feels added pressure, but the unit has responded well by allowing just 18.5 ppg.
Joe Gaglione has taken big steps in his senior year, leading the team with 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Linebacker Tom Donatell (27 tackles, two INTs, FF) has also been a big playmaker for the UI defense.
With the start of the conference schedule, records can be thrown out for this matchup between old rivals. Both defenses have played well, which should result in a classic smash mouth-type Big Ten football game, but with Minnesota's offense showing more explosiveness than the Hawkeyes' here in the early going, figure the Gophers to cash in for crucial touchdowns while Iowa continues to settle for field goals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 21, Iowa 16
09/26 10:33:49 ET