Minnesota is is banged up, while Iowa looks to regroup
For the Hawkeyes, a tough loss to Wisconsin two weekends ago has them needing help the rest of the way if they want to win the Big Ten West. That said, they also need to take care of their own business, and that starts Saturday at Minnesota.
The Gophers had a bad showing against Maryland, but they also lost safety Antoine Winfield Jr. — their best player — for the season in that game. The Gophers had already lost running back Rodney Smith. Now P.J. Fleck's team is looking for leadership and resiliency.
Iowa at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Minnesota stop Noah Fant?
Fant is arguably the most athletic tight end in the country. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. would have been the perfect guy to lock onto Fant in hopes of minimizing his impact. Now there's no guarantee P.J. Fleck's squad has a player or players who can keep Fant in check all afternoon. The Hawkeyes will look to set the tone early via the run, but if they can do damage right out of the gate with their elite tight end, Minnesota is in trouble.
2. Can Zack Annexstad bounce back?
The young Gopher signal-caller turned in his first poor performance of the season against Maryland. He's had some time to watch film and see what went wrong. Now he'll face the best defense he's seen to date. If he can learn from his mistakes and calmly get the ball to his playmakers, he can keep Minnesota in the game for a while. If the Iowa defense — particularly the pass rush — flusters him early on, this one will be over before halftime.
3. Which Nate Stanley will we see?
The Hawkeyes are still waiting for the Stanley from 2017 to show up this season. Last year, the Iowa quarterback showed flashes of a potential early-round NFL draft pick. This season, Stanley has been pedestrian and the offense has sputtered at times as a result. Away from the distractions at home and against an inferior opponent on paper, Stanley has the opportunity to have that "get right" game. If he can have a strong performance right out of the gate, it'll bode well for both this game and the rest of Iowa's season.
We saw Iowa go toe-to-toe with Wisconsin, and the Hawkeyes probably should have beaten the Badgers. This is an extremely talented on both sides of the ball, and if everything is clicking, this game shouldn't be close. A lot will depend on whether or not Minnesota can protect young quarterback Zack Annexstad and sustain a couple of scoring drives early. I'm just not sure that's possible, especially against an Iowa front seven that boasts talent like defensive end A.J. Epenesa. Look for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to exploit the loss of Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., giving Stanley the green light to force the ball downfield early and often. When Minnesota has the ball, Iowa will pin its ears back and come after the freshman signal-caller. This game will likely get ugly in a hurry.
Prediction: Iowa 34, Minnesota 13
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.