Gophers Could Force Inept Iowa Offense to Beat Them but PJ Fleck Probably Won’t

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pig week. An annual college football tradition where the Minnesota Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes do battle over a pig trophy named Floyd. The border rivalry goes back over 130 years, to 1891, the Floyd of Rosedale back to 1934, in a historic bet between the two state’s governors at the time.

PJ Fleck’s Minnesota Gophers 0-6 vs Iowa Hawkeyes

But recently, the Gophers have been starved of the essential protein that bacon provides a football program. The last time Minnesota beat Iowa was November 8, 2014, a 51-14 shellacking at Huntington (then TCF) Bank Stadium.

It gets worse. The last time the Gophers won in Iowa City, where the game is this weekend, was November 20, 1999. That’s nearly 2.5 decades ago, for those counting. If Minnesota were to win on Saturday afternoon, it would be the first time ~1/3 of the fan base has seen the Gophers raise Floyd at Kinnick Stadium. PJ Fleck vs the Hawkeyes: 0-6

Related: Gophers Darius Taylor Expected to Play vs Iowa

For casuals looking in from afar, an upset in Kinnick this weekend seems unlikely. The 2023 Hawkeyes are 6-1, ranked #24 in the country and coming off of a win, on the road, over the Wisconsin Badgers just 7 days ago. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Gophers are coming off a bye week, which they needed after losing three of the four Saturdays prior.

Closer look says Iowa is fraudulent (yet again)

But a closer look tells another story. Iowa’s starting quarterback Cade McNamara, who was brought in from the transfer portal as the answer to their offensive problems, is out. His replacement, Deacon Hill, isn’t good.

The Hawkeyes are also missing their top two running backs and top two tight ends. Oh, and the Iowa offensive line is not the rock-solid future NFL laden group it’s been in past matchups.

Let’s face it, when your biggest weapon is a punter, like Tory Taylor is for Iowa… your team probably has some question marks. You’ll notice Taylor Saturday, when he’s pinning the Gophers deep or flipping fields every time he kicks a football. Future pro? Yes. Feature weapon? He’s still a punter.

Per usual, Iowa has a great defense, ranking 27th in the country in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed. But much like what we’ve seen in past years, Iowa has a whole lot of fraudulence to them. Without a doubt, the Hawkeyes are one of the most beatable one-loss teams in the country.

The sports books agree. Iowa enters Saturday as 3.5 point favorites against a very underwhelming Gophers team. At home, that’s a pretty embarrassing pick-em for the #24 ranked team in the nation.

Fleck Wants Minnesota Gophers to beat Iowa the Iowa way

The obvious formula for victory vs the Hawkeyes is to get up early and make their 133rd ranked offense play from behind. Just in case you weren’t aware, 133rd is last among all college FBS programs.

But there’s one problem with that. PJ Fleck is the Minnesota Gophers head coach, and for whatever reason, he is convinced that Hawkeye head coach, Kirk Ferentz, is the boogeyman. Thus, whenever the two coaches meet, PJ plays scared and the Gophers lose.

Fleck runs the ball vs Iowa until forced to pass and, even then, will shy away from aggressive opportunities downfield, in favor of risk-free air attempts that may or may not move the chains. He’s under the impression that the only way to beat Iowa is to completely avoid mistakes and that leads to the fear he operates with vs the Hawkeyes.

You could smell his fear through your TV screens in the last two match-ups between these Big Ten West rivals, a 27-22 Gopher loss at Kinnick in 2021 and a 13-10 loss at Huntington Bank Stadium last fall. Combined the past two seasons, Minnesota out-gained the Hawkeyes 818 to 557 in total yards and completely dominated time of possession, 75 minutes to 45 minutes.

Related: Gophers Top 2024 Football Commit Koi Perich Moves into National Top-100

But, Fleck & Co refused to grab control of either game and the Minnesota offense failed to turn good offensive possessions into touchdowns. Last year, the Gophers ran for 312 yards on an Iowa defense that did not have an answer for Mo Ibrahim, until late in the 4th quarter, when he fumbled at the goal line and spoiled another chance at ending their losing streak vs Iowa.

What if PJ Fleck’s approach is wrong?

Mo’s unfortunate and unlikely fumble, again, begs to question… why rely on conservative, flaw-free football, to beat Iowa? Fleck might believe the only way to beat the Hawkeyes is playing mistake free football but I’d challenge him to consider whether or not that theory is actually true.

Yes, Iowa wins games by forcing other teams to make mistakes, using defense and a consistent edge in the field position battle to wear down opponents. But isn’t playing ultra conservatively and doing everything seemingly possible to avoid those mistakes playing right into their hands?

We are talking about the worst offense in college football. Even if you throw it to the Iowa defense for two pick-6’s, it’s far from a sure bet they parlay those 14 defensive points into 20 points total in that game. There should be no reason to play scared vs one of the most offensive inept football schools of the 21st century, no matter how good their punter is.

We know one thing for sure. PJ Fleck is 0-6 vs Iowa trying to be perfect.

You had success on the ground in each of the past two seasons, so you have figured something out against the Iowa defensive front. Don’t be afraid to use that, especially with the phenom freshman, Darius Taylor, expected to return after missing two weeks with an injury.

Related: PJ Fleck Pleads Gophers Fans and Boosters for More NIL Money

But there should be no reason to fear running a play action, off that rushing success, every once in awhile, especially knowing they are going to enter the match up geared to stop you from running the ball.

In the end, PJ Fleck will probably PJ Fleck

I highly doubt, however, that we will see an aggressive Minnesota offense on Saturday, no matter how much sense you or I think it makes. The only way Fleck wants to beat the boogeyman is with fear. And maybe he can still win that way. As mentioned earlier, he probably should have won last year, even with just 85 yards of passing on the night.

But one thing we are unlikely to see is the Gophers getting out to an early lead where the horrible, no-good Hawkeye offense has to function properly in order for them to win. I wasted my time begging PJ to be more aggressive for too many years in a row. I have simply lost faith in him having the testicular fortitude to be aggressive vs Iowa.

Thus, we’ll probably have to hope that Darius Taylor goes off for 250 yards and can find his way into the endzone multiple times in the process. Then, pull out a 19-13 mud throwing festival.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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