Key to Beating Iowa Saturday: Score First

Photo: Emery Glover – Hawk Central

PJ Fleck has been head coach of the Minnesota Gophers football team for 4+ seasons (hired before 2017) and the Iowa Hawkeyes are the only Big Ten West team he’s yet to beat. But Fleck will get another chance to rectify that 0-4 record on Saturday when the Gophers play the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium (2:30 PM).

Not only will PJ try to get his first victory over Kirk Ferentz this weekend but Minnesota will be shooting for their first win in Iowa City since 1999. How do the Gophers pull off such a feat when so much history is stacked against them? Well, scoring first and taking the lead might be a good place to start, given Minnesota hasn’t held a lead against Iowa during the PJ Fleck era.

Not for one second.

Don’t fall behind

The Iowa Hawkeyes have jumped out to an early lead in every matchup with Fleck, to date. Turning the tables on them Saturday is more important than ever, given the deficiencies both offenses have experienced in 2021. The Gophers rank 72nd (25.9 PPG) in the nation in scoring offense. Iowa ranks 83rd (24.4 PPG).

If forced to pass, numbers get even uglier. Iowa ranks 106th (185.3 YPG) in the country. Minnesota ranks 120th (153.6 YPG). Neither team wants to play in a negative game script and both rely on their stout defense to keep them ahead or in games.

So come out swinging

Minnesota’s best offensive showing of the 2021 season was probably in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Mike Sanford and PJ Fleck came out with a game plan that had Tanner Morgan throwing at the same rate he handed the ball off. That approach got into an early rhythm and Tanner suddenly looked like his 2019 self, torching the Husker defense for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns, at a 93% completion rate.

In that matchup, it was clear the Gophers wanted to catch Nebby unprepared for that kind of passing attack. It worked and Minnesota took a 21-9 lead into halftime. That’s the same type of attack Fleck and Sanford should open with vs Iowa.

PJ should be determined to score early, take the lead and force Kirk Ferentz’ anemic offense to come back on them in the 2nd half. Because whichever team jumps ahead early, will likely take the Floyd of Rosedale with them when it’s all over. That’s been the winning recipe for four matchups and I don’t expect it to change on Saturday.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan