IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa and Minnesota once was a season-ending staple to the Big Ten schedule.
One of the two teams played its Big Ten finale against the other every year from 1983 through 2010. Then with the Big Ten’s multiple expansions, the rivalry shifted from late November to whenever the league computer randomly deems fit.
The calendar change hasn’t shaken the importance of this game to either fan base. The cheapest ticket on VividSeats.com is $65. On the Gophers‘ website, it’s $90. Likewise, Minnesota provided Iowa with its only sellout last season at Kinnick Stadium.
So expect another intense battle between the border foes at TCF Bank Stadium. Here are five key things for this game:
1. King’s the king
Iowa cornerback Desmond King has impressed analysts with his performance this season despite not intercepting a pass.
Pro Football Focus ranks King as college football’s third-best cornerback through five weeks. He’s allowed 7 catches in 13 targets for 47 yards and no scores. King, a senior, tied the Iowa school record with 8 interceptions last year and earned the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
“He’s an awfully good player,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said. “He makes a lot of plays, and if he’s covering our guys close and shutting them down, then we won’t throw there, either.”
King returned to his role of captain this week, replacing injured wide receiver Matt VandeBerg. Joining King are quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels and linebacker Josey Jewell.
2. Who hates Iowa?
Minnesota hates Iowa, silly. It’s a fun little ditty the Gophers faithful chant when the Hawkeyes invade Minneapolis. It’s also one that comes out when Minnesota plays anybody else in football, like Middle Tennessee State. Or in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for men’s basketball against Florida State.
“Who hates Iowa? We hate Iowa!”
“It’s crazy that they do it in games that they’re not even playing against Iowa,” Minnesota linebacker Jack Lynn said. “It just shows the rivalry and how big it is to the state of Minnesota.”
The series enters its 110th edition with the first taking place in 1891. Minnesota holds a 62-45-2 lead. The teams began playing for the 98-pound bronze pig Floyd of Rosedale in 1935.
“It’s a big rivalry, it’s going to get us pumped and get us going,” Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata said.
— Chris Ruth (@ChrisRuthIOWA) May 13, 2016
3. Run defense
Iowa’s run defense is headed toward its worst showing since 2000 and currently allows 182.8 yards per game. Gap integrity and indecision are factors in Iowa’s poor performance. So is sloppy tackling.
Perhaps the worst part of it, Bazata said, is most of the issues aren’t based on getting whipped by the opponent.
“You’ll get two or three guys up front not playing their blocks or something like that and it will create a hole,” Bazata said. “We have to be on the same page if we want to have a championship defense.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz agrees.
“Talent disparities and all that kind of stuff, and I don’t think that’s our issue right now,” Ferentz said. “Our issue is just playing more consistently, all 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be on a given play.”
The Hawkeyes face one of the Big Ten’s better rushing offenses in Minnesota this week. The Gophers average 228.3 yards on the ground, fourth most in the Big Ten.
4. Changes coming?
Iowa’s depth chart remained the same Monday as it was the previous week. But is it possible for Ferentz to shift a player or two around?
“You never rule anything out,” Ferentz said. “We’ll see how practice goes this week.”
Over his 18 years at Iowa, Ferentz has shown reluctance to changing starters barring injuries or poor performance. The depth chart usually gets set after training camp in August.
“There are ups and downs in everything you do, and you have to work through those ups and downs,” Ferentz said. “If we feel a player is incapable, yeah, we’ll make a change that way. Or someone else if we see them ascending, we’ll give them an opportunity also.”
5. Another early kickoff
For the fourth consecutive week, Iowa faces an opponent at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET). After two sterling offensive performances with late afternoon and evening kickoffs, the Hawkeyes have appeared sluggish during the late morning openers. It’s something the players have recognized, too.
“We have come out flat, just a work in progress,” Iowa running back Akrum Wadley said. “I can’t pinpoint what it is, but we’ve got to fix it.”
The Hawkeyes have lost two of their last three games after starting the season 2-0.
It’s not the last early kickoff, either. At 11 a.m. CT on Oct. 15, the Hawkeyes play at Purdue. Kickoff time for Iowa’s Oct. 22 home date with Wisconsin remains undetermined until Monday.
— Chris Ruth (@ChrisRuthIOWA) August 13, 2016