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Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview and Prediction

Author:
Drew Wolitarsky

Drew Wolitarsky

The annual battle for The Floyd of Rosedale trophy brings with it serious Big Ten West implications in 2016. Having lost a heartbreaker to Penn State in overtime last weekend, Minnesota has otherwise looked fairly impressive every time out. Iowa, on the other hand, is reeling. A three-week stretch that saw the Hawkeyes lose to North Dakota State, nearly fall to Rutgers and lose to Northwestern has the sky falling in Iowa City. Injuries on offense and general confusion on defense have Iowa staring down an 1-2 start in conference play — less than a year removed from a 12-0 regular season.

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Iowa at Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8, 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Iowa -1.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The Hawkeye rushing game

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In its two losses this season, Iowa has rushed for a grand total of 113 yards. Some of that is situational and comes with being involved in back-and-forth, high-scoring affairs. Most of it, however, is a lack of execution by both the offensive line and the ball carriers. Iowa must establish the run as a threat early on in this one, especially with the game being played on the road. Minnesota has proven to be a team in 2016 that can score points (36.2 ppg). Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz needs to find a way to limit Minnesota's possessions, and the easiest way to get that done is with a solid rushing attack — just like Iowa had during its 2015 run. If the Hawkeyes struggle to move the ball on the ground early again, this game has to potential to get ugly.

2. Mitch Leidner's ability to improvise

For the fourth consecutive week, Iowa is facing a quarterback that doesn't always stick to the script. Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner is having arguably the best season of his collegiate career. His mobility is keeping defenses honest and allowing the Gophers’ skill players to operate in space, which is one of the reasons why the team is tied for 41st in the FBS in scoring offense. The Hawkeyes need to get pressure from their defensive tackles up the middle while simultaneously not allowing Leidner to roll out of the pocket and make a play. It's simple assignment football, but I'm not sure Iowa is focused enough right now to execute on every down. If Leidner makes a big play early with his legs, it could be a long day for the Iowa D.

3. Iowa's secondary

Cornerback Desmond King holds his own for the most part, but even he hasn't been immune to mistakes and just flat out getting beat badly — especially on intermediate routes — so far this season. The rest of the secondary has Hawkeye fans holding their breath on every third down, wondering who is going to give up the play underneath that allows a drive to keep going. The Hawkeyes need to focus on Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky. The senior is far and away Leidner's favorite target, accounting for one third of the Gophers’ receptions (24 of 74) on the year. Locking Wolitarsky down could work in conjunction with Iowa getting more pressure on Leidner, forcing him to extend the play to get through all of his progressions and make a decision on what to do with the ball.

Final Analysis

The loser of this game has a serious uphill battle in the Big Ten West from here on out. You get the sense that the Hawkeyes have lost a lot of their confidence over the last couple of weeks. I see them giving up a couple of scores early and pressing the rest of the way. That'll lead to a couple of turnovers and short fields for Mitch Leidner and the Gopher offense — allowing Minnesota to stretch the lead. The home crowd, the morale and the outlook for both teams moving forward all are likely to play significant roles in the outcome of this one. Those all favor Minnesota at this point, and the score at the end will likely be a reflection of that.

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Prediction: Minnesota 30, Iowa 13

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.