MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After falling short of a bowl game last season for the first time since 2007, Iowa is determined to re-establish itself as a formidable Big Ten team.
This dismantling of rival Minnesota was a solid first step.
“Any time you step out on the field, at least in an Iowa uniform, you want to control the physical aspect of the game. And I think we did that for the most part,” linebacker James Morris said.
Jake Rudock threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and the Hawkeyes dominated the Gophers on both sides of the ball in a 23-7 victory Saturday.
“It’s always fun. It’s what you love to do: celebrate with your teammates, celebrate with the great fans we have that came and watched us,” said Mark Weisman, who rushed for 147 yards on 24 carries, after the Hawkeyes hoisted the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy to pull within 61-44-2 in the all-time series.
Iowa has won 10 of the last 13 meetings. Mike Meyer made three of his four field-goal attempts, Rudock went 15 of 25 for 218 yards passing and the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0) moved the chains on eight of 14 third downs. Iowa, which lost its opener to Northern Illinois, has outscored its last two opponents 82-10.
“I think we’re improving every game,” Rudock said, “but the important thing is to not get satisfied.”
Morris and fellow senior linebackers Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens led a stifling effort on defense, including interceptions by Kirksey and Morris of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson. Nelson hadn’t played in two weeks because of an injury, but he started ahead of Mitch Leidner for the Gophers (4-1, 0-1).
Morris had eight tackles and one of Iowa’s four sacks. Hitchens had 10 tackles, and Kirksey had five.
“Those guys are great,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “They get us going.”
Nelson lost 18 yards on nine rushes and completed 12 of 24 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown to Derrick Engel, who had 67 yards on five catches. Iowa outgained Minnesota 464-165 in total yards.
“We knew coming in what their game plan was,” Gophers defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. “We did our best to prepare for that. There weren’t any surprises up front.”
The Gophers went 3-9 in 2010 and 2011, but they beat bowl-bound Iowa teams here in both of those seasons. The payback came last year at Kinnick Stadium, where Minnesota’s 4-0 nonconference record was buried beneath a bunch of powerful runs by Weisman in a 31-13 Iowa victory.
The Gophers were far more convincing with their first four victories this year, with an average of 41.8 points and 282.2 yards rushing per game, but this defeat was equally humbling and decisive.
Punter Peter Mortell was Minnesota’s best asset: He averaged more than 45 yards on five attempts in the first half. But even when the Hawkeyes started deep in their own end, they were strong enough to escape. They went 80 yards in eight plays to score on Rudock’s scramble for 4 yards just inside the pylon. Two possessions later, Rudock completed two passes for 85 yards, the latter a wide receiver screen to Damond Powell, who raced 74 yards untouched on his way to the end zone.
Powell, a junior who’s not even listed on the two-deep lineup, stopped still and stared in a taunting pose at the Minnesota student section for several seconds before retreating to the sideline. Powell has four receptions this season, three of 49 yards or longer and two for touchdowns.
Marcus Jones took a late-third-quarter kickoff out of the end zone for 66 yards, setting up Minnesota’s first score. Nelson’s best throw came four plays later on a slant pattern to Engel for the 23-yard touchdown. Iowa quickly marched toward an answering score, but senior safety Brock Vereen darted in front of Tevaun Smith in the end zone to intercept Rudock and keep the Gophers in it.
Nelson’s keeper on fourth-and-1 extended the next drive, but on third-and-10 at the Minnesota 43, the sophomore had Engel open on a post route but overthrew him to prompt a punt.
Another significant step back for the Gophers was with their discipline. They were the least-penalized team in the conference entering the weekend, but they were flagged five times for 45 yards, including two costly false-start infractions.
“We take a lot of pride in our run game,” Nelson said. “Any time that you can’t really run the football as well you’d hope, it really affects the rest of the game plan — especially a team like us.”
The Hawkeyes have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. They’re giving up an average of 79.2 yards on the ground per game.
“Whether it’s ugly, pretty or whatever, wins are wins and they’re hard to come by,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.