Gophers report card: Dominant in all phases over Hawkeyes

Minnesota completely dominated the Iowa and scored 51 unanswered points against one of its biggest rivals.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The pig is back. Minnesota dismantled Iowa 51-14 on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium to reclaim the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. The Gophers now have possession of Floyd and the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1967. Minnesota passed each category with flying colors this weekend as the Gophers turned in their most dominating Big Ten performance in recent memory. Here are the grades from Saturday’s win.

Running offense: A-

It was a rare day when senior running back David Cobb was not the Gophers’ leading rusher. That title belonged to sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner, who gained 77 yards on 11 carries. His longest run of the day was a 21-yard scamper, which also happened to be the longest running play for the Gophers on Saturday. Meanwhile, Cobb was held to 74 yards on 16 carries, but he did find the end zone on a 6-yard run that included a nice stiff arm of an Iowa defender.

Minnesota added a wrinkle into its run game against the Hawkeyes as wide receiver KJ Maye had 10 carries. Those rushes came via the jet sweep, which proved to be effective against Iowa’s defense. Maye was able to get to the edge and find room on the outside en route to a career-high 66 rushing yards. Maye, too, found the end zone on a sweep play that went nine yards. Running backs Berkley Edwards and Rodrick Williams were mixed into the offense more than usual Saturday as they had eight and five carries, respectively. Edwards broke off a 17-yard run, while Williams plunged into the end zone from one yard out early in the fourth quarter.

Passing offense: A

Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Saturday was the best game of sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner’s career, and Leidner agreed with that statement. Though he only threw for 138 yards in the win, Leidner had just three incompletions — including one throw-away. He finished 10-for-13 and also set a career high with four touchdown passes.

Three of those went to sophomore tight end Maxx Williams, who had his best game as a Gopher. That included a highlight reel catch in which Williams dove to make the play while also dragging his toe in bounds for a 25-yard completion. Perhaps one of the best passes Leidner threw Saturday — and one of the best of his career — was a 44-yard strike to Donovahn Jones that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. It was a big bounce-back effort for Leidner after completing just 12 of 30 passes two weeks earlier against Illinois. Though Leidner threw for more yards in that loss to the Illini, he was much sharper and more efficient Saturday in the rout of Iowa.

Running defense: A+

The past two years, Hawkeyes running back Mark Weisman was a thorn in the Gophers’ side. The bruising back rumbled for 177 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota in 2012 and had 147 rushing yards last year as Iowa topped the Gophers. On Saturday, Weisman was a non-factor. Minnesota keyed in on the senior running back all game and held him to just 21 yards on 14 carries. His average of 1.5 yards per carry was his lowest all season. The only player who had any success running against Minnesota’s defense was Akrum Wadley, who gained 58 yards on just nine rushes. As a team, the Hawkeyes managed a mere 84 rushing yards, the first time all year they didn’t crack 100 yards on the ground.

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Passing defense: A

After Iowa’s first drive of the game, the Hawkeyes barely managed anything through the air. Jake Rudock was efficient to start the game as Iowa converted a number of third-down plays through the air. That included a 24-yard pass and a 15-yard completion, both on third down. Rudock also completed a 20-yarder on that drive for a total of 59 passing yards on the opening scoring drive. From that point on Rudock had just 40 passing yards for the entire rest of the game. He finished 10-of-19 for 89 yards and was intercepted in the first quarter by Minnesota’s Briean Boddy-Calhoun.

The Gophers also finished with four sacks by four different players, and one of them resulted in a fumble. The Hawkeyes put up big numbers (262 yards) in the passing game a week ago against Northwestern and the week before against Maryland (317 yards). On Saturday, Minnesota’s defense was ready for the test.

Special teams: B

This was the only weak spot for the Gophers, but it wasn’t even close to weak enough to cause Minnesota any trouble. Kicker Ryan Santoso missed one of his two field goal tries, a 45-yarder at the end of the first half. Otherwise he connected on a 35-yarder in the fourth quarter to extend Minnesota’s lead. Backup kicker Andrew Harte also missed an extra point in the fourth quarter in his first career attempt.

Punter Peter Mortell didn’t see much action as he had to punt just three times. Those three punts averaged 38.0 yards and all were downed inside the 20-yard line. The best special teams play of the day came when cornerback Eric Murray got his hand on a Connor Kornbrath punt to deflect it for just a 14-yard punt. Neither team did much in the return game, as the Gophers’ longest kick return — they had just two returns all day — was only 16 yards.

Overall: A

This was about as unpredictable a win as the Gophers have had under Kill. Not that it was a shock that Minnesota beat Iowa, but the way that the Gophers did so was stunning. Minnesota completely dominated all phases of the game and scored 51 unanswered points against one of its biggest rivals. Both teams entered Saturday’s matchup with just one Big Ten loss, but the Gophers looked like the much better team.

Now Minnesota continues its tough stretch of games at the end of the year as it prepares to host a red-hot Ohio State squad next Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

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