Trophy, 5-0 record on line for Gophers vs. Iowa

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers football team plays for four different rivalry trophies every year. Over the last several years, though, the only one Minnesota has ever had custody of is Floyd of Rosedale, a big bronze pig awarded annually to the winner of the Gophers’ game with Iowa.

That trophy case at the team’s football complex is currently sitting empty and collecting dust. For the last year, Floyd has resided in Iowa City after the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 31-13 in last season’s meeting. The Gophers had won this rivalry the previous two seasons, but Jerry Kill’s team never came close to making in a threepeat.

“They lined up and kicked our butt for four quarters,” Kill said of last year’s drubbing. “That’s about as simple as I can put it. They beat our butt for four quarters. I don’t have any excuses. They just did.”

Gophers running back Rodrick Williams was a freshman last year when Minnesota traveled to Iowa and had yet to play in a game. Instead, he had to watch from the sideline as Iowa’s Mark Weisman ran wild on the Gophers defense. Minnesota’s offense didn’t fare much better as quarterback Max Shortell was intercepted three times in the loss.

Williams realized the importance of the rivalry, even as a freshman. These annual trophy games are something Kill said he uses in recruiting as part of his sales pitch. So as Williams stood there unable to help, he was already thinking ahead a year to their next meeting — this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

“I was real upset. I just knew this year I was going to make sure I was going to be playing for this game,” said Williams, who likely will get the start at running back Saturday. “I was upset just watching it, so I don’t want that to ever happen again.”

Minnesota enters Saturday’s game just like it did last year’s game against Iowa: a perfect 4-0 after four nonconference games. But something feels different about 4-0 this time around. None of the Gophers’ four nonconference wins this season were ever in doubt. All four margins of victory have been by double-digit points, as Minnesota has won by an average of 21.8 points per game.

Last year’s nonconference slate was a bit less convincing. Minnesota needed triple overtime to beat UNLV on the road in the season opener. Two other wins were by single-digits. A 44-7 rout of New Hampshire was the only no-doubter. The four nonconference victories in 2012 were by an average of 13 points per game.

“Our four wins last year … versus our four wins this year, this year it’s been a lot cleaner,” said Gophers senior safety Brock Vereen. “We’ve been playing with a lot more energy. There’s been not even half the amount of mistakes. That gives you a lot of confidence.”

Minnesota has a real chance to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2004, which would leave the Gophers needing just one win in their final seven games to become bowl eligible. But things will be much different Saturday than they were against nonconference opponents. Iowa’s offensive and defensive lines will be much bigger and more physical. The Hawkeyes will pound the ball on the ground, and they’ll be tougher to run against than Western Illinois or San Jose State.

The Gophers admittedly got a little overconfident after last season’s 4-0 start. They’re making sure that’s not the case in 2013.

“Anybody watching a nonconference game is going to be like, ‘OK, it’s nonconference, but what are they going to be doing in their own conference?'” Williams said. “We’re here to make a statement. Everyone’s always talking down about Minnesota. I’m just ready for the game to show everybody we’re not here to play any games.”

If Minnesota does indeed win Saturday, it would improve the Gophers’ all-time record in Floyd of Rosedale games to 42-35-2. Kill said he’s glad to be playing this game at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers are expecting a sellout and surely a raucous crowd for Saturday afternoon’s game against one of the school’s biggest rivals.

As always, there’s plenty on the line when the Gophers and Hawkeyes collide. State pride. A pig.

And, oh yeah, a 5-0 record.

“To me, it’s like playing in a bowl game,” Kill said. “You get excited about it, but you’ve still got to keep the team focused and keep them concentrated on the most important thing they need to do, and that’s to play well on Saturday. I worry about us getting better, but we won’t de-emphasize who we’re playing.”

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