Playing for the pig: Iowa-Minnesota rivalry at 107

Published 4:14 am Friday, September 27, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill had just finished addressing his team after last week’s win over San Jose State when he was approached by Eric Kaler, the president of the university.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff on my mind after the game. He shook my hand and said, ‘Good win. I’d sure like to have that pig back,”’ Kill said.

That perfect nonconference record by the Gophers (4-0) won’t mean much if they don’t beat Iowa, one of their two biggest rivals. They’ll play at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon. After wins at home over the Hawkeyes in 2010 and 2011, the Gophers traveled south last year and lost decisively, 31-13.

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“They honestly just kicked our butt, and they kicked it for four quarters. They didn’t just kick it for a half,” Kill said this week as his team prepared for the annual game for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, the bronze pig that goes to the winning side. “How do you prevent that? You go back to work and try to get better, and we’ll see if we got any better.”

Iowa (3-1) dropped its opener to Northern Illinois but beat Western Michigan 59-3 last week. The Hawkeyes are relying on their usual power running game, with Mark Weisman leading the FBS with 95 carries. New quarterback Jake Rudock has rushed for four touchdowns. But the Hawkeyes have some flair, too: wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley returned two punts for touchdowns last week.

The Gophers have quite the rhythm going on the ground themselves. Ben Lauer, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound redshirt freshman, has taken over as the starter at left tackle, giving a beefy front five even more girth.

“We’re hardly that kind of size, so it’s going to be a real test for us,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said of his defensive line.

Here are five things to know about this year’s fight for Floyd:

EARLY DATE: This is the 107th meeting between the two programs but only the second time they’ve played in September. Last season was the first.

For 26 straight years, from 1984-2009, the Gophers and Hawkeyes met in November, often for the final regular-season game. They played in October in 2010.

DISCIPLINED TEAM: Minnesota has the fewest penalties (10 for 92 yards) in the Big Ten through four games. That number is tied for the third lowest in the FBS.

The Gophers also have only turned the ball over three times (one fumble and two interceptions), the best rate in the conference so far.

NOT FANCY PASSING: The effect of that success for Minnesota moving the ball on the ground is a passing attack that has been barely noticeable. The Gophers have averaged 105.3 yards per game through the air, 118th out of 123 teams in the FBS.

Only one of their 22 touchdowns has been produced by the pass.

Part of that is a product of having a group of inexperienced wide receivers, and another reason is the still-developing status of sophomore Philip Nelson and the redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner. But when a team runs the ball almost 50 times per game, well, there won’t be many snaps left for the quarterback to find a throwing rhythm.

“You’ve got to take what the defense gives you,” Kill said.

SPECIAL DELIVERIES: In addition to the boost Martin-Manley has given the Hawkeyes on punt returns, they’ve had sound contributions from other special teams players, too.

Senior kicker Mike Meyer has converted all 17 extra point attempts, extending his school-record streak to 98 straight, and he’s 5 for 6 on field goals, with one miss from 33 yards. Sophomore punter Connor Kronbrath also averaged 47 yards on three punts last week, with a long of 55 yards. One of them was downed at the 8-yard line.

“He’s gaining more confidence. I think the experience factor is starting to kick in for him a little bit. He’s done some really nice things,” Ferentz said. “When he just relaxes and uses his tools, he does a pretty good job.”

CATCHING ON: Martin-Manley became the first player in Big Ten history to return back-to-back punts for touchdowns. The junior is also fifth in the conference with 20 receptions and is the 20th player in program history with at least 100 career catches.