Minnesota Gophers Fall 31-13 to Iowa

Published 8:51 am Monday, October 1, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill’s team was the surprise of the Big Ten entering conference play. And the Gophers continued to surprise, only in a different way, falling behind by 24 points in the first half and losing 31-13 on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Kinnick Stadium.

The Gophers (4-1, 0-1 in the Big Ten) had to watch Iowa regain the Floyd of Rosedale pig after coming up on top in one of the program’s biggest rivalry games the past two seasons. But they were pretty fortunate to have played Iowa in back-to-back seasons at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota hadn’t won in Iowa City since 1999.

The Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0) gained 328 of their 377 yards in the first half alone, which surpassed what the Gophers had been allowing per game (308) in the first four games ranking third in the Big Ten. Sophomore running back Mark Weisman had his third straight 100-yard rushing game for Iowa with 21 carries for 177 yards.

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Last year’s 22-21 win against the Hawkeyes was a breakout game for quarterback MarQueis Gray, who had his most accurate passing game and scored the game-winning touchdown run. But the Gophers were held to just 75 yards of offense in the opening half Saturday. Sophomore Max Shortell failed to provide a spark with Gray out for the second game with an ankle sprain. He threw three interceptions while completing 20 of 33 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Shortell also led the team in rushing with just 44 yards.

Shortell started his first Big Ten game since last year’s 58-0 loss at Michigan in the 2011 conference opener.

Shortell completed only 3 of 10 passes for 27 yards and an interception in the first half against Iowa. Sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood was held to just 27 of his 33 yards rushing in the first half.

At least the offense had a big reason for struggling. There was no excuse for the Gophers defense to get totally outmatched physically Saturday.

The Hawkeyes were coming off a bad home loss to Central Michigan. But Weisman followed up his 200-yard performance last week with 16 carries and 155 yards and a touchdown in the first half Saturday. The former backup fullback had runs of 44 and 27 yards on just one drive to end the first quarter already past the 100-yard mark.

Minnesota’s defense was a big reason the team went 4-0 in nonconference play, but it had not been tested by a powerful downfield rushing team until today. The secondary had been a strength but it fell asleep on a 47-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from James Vandenberg to Jordan Cotton to make it 17-0 to start the second quarter. The Gophers were the only team in the country not to give up a 30-yard pass play this season before Saturday. Being vulnerable to the play-action pass, they gave up two passes longer than 40 yards just in the first half.

Vandenberg had been criticized for a slow start this season (only one TD pass entering the game). But the senior went 13 of 19 with 165 yards and a touchdown in the first half Saturday. Now Shortell might be facing some skeptics as the Gophers will probably be faced with a decision to play Gray after the bye week when they host Northwestern for Oct. 13 homecoming.