MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — There wasn’t enough lipstick at the Mall of America to beautify the battle for Floyd of Rosedale to a national audience on Saturday.
The 98.3-pound bronze pig has enough charm to captivate the world 10 times over, which is why the annual rivalry game between Iowa and Minnesota usually steps up a channel or a time slot. But the game itself was so ugly nobody’s mother truly could love it.
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz does. So do his players. A 14-7 win at TCF Bank Stadium was pretty enough for a program that prides itself on tenacity and toughness. No sizzle, just pork. No outlandish statistics, just a couple of big plays and the mettle to hang onto a prized hog.
“It was just a physical game,” said Iowa safety Brandon Snyder, who intercepted a pass with 2:30 left in the game to squash a late Minnesota drive. “It’s one of those games where you get done and you feel exhausted and you’re happy with the win because you know how much you put into it.”
It was a game for Iowa’s maligned players to gain redemption. Senior cornerback Greg Mabin was targeted throughout the game — and this season — with mixed results. Minnesota twice completed passes to his side on its final drive, causing replay reviews.
When the Gophers faced fourth-and-15 from Iowa’s 18-yard line, Mabin saw the inside slot receiver motion away from his side. He knew he had man coverage on Minnesota receiver Brian Smith and the ball was coming his direction. When Smith broke toward the far pylon in the end zone, Mabin had his chance. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner’s pass fell incomplete.
“I just had to read the receiver’s eyes and make a play on the ball,” Mabin said. “It was definitely a relief.”
Iowa’s run defense was on track for its worst season since 2000. But applying better run fits and attacking Minnesota’s powerful tandem of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith resulted in the Hawkeyes’ fewest rushing yards allowed this season. The Gophers rushed for 102 yards on 29 carries and their longest carry was 11 yards.
For five straight possessions in the fourth quarter, Minnesota failed to make a first down. During that span, the Gophers rushed five times for zero yards, completed two of nine passes for 15 yards and an interception.
“We were a lot more disciplined, we stayed in our gaps, just played better team football and just leveraged the football better,” Snyder said.
Iowa’s ground game produced 179 yards on 41 carries. Two runs combined for 85 yards. The rest were pedestrian attempts, like driving a sledgehammer into a brick facade. But the pounding attrition created the opening that led to Akrum Wadley’s 54-yard touchdown run.
Tight end George Kittle drove his defender 15 yards out of the play. Guard Sean Welsh buried his opponent into the TCF Bank Stadium Field turf. Tackle Boone Myers walled off the inside. Wadley made safety Jacob Huff miss him in space for the score.
Then there’s Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, who left the field for one play because his knee brace had broken. Then, while protecting the lead on third-and-10, Beathard rushed toward the first down marker. Minnesota linebacker Mike Rallis hit Beathard three yards shy of the first down. Rallis blasted Beathard so hard he flipped and landed on his shoulder. But Beathard pulled himself from the turf. His effort symbolized Iowa’s day.
“You know that guy, he’s crazy,” Kittle said of Beathard. “But like I said last year, he’s the dude. He runs our offense. He’s the best leader we have. I don’t really want him to be doing that stuff because I don’t want him to be hurt. If C.J. is going to go airborne, if C.J.’s going to take hits, we’re all going to take hits.”
In a victory where Kittle and Myers praised the defense and Snyder heaped gratitude upon Beathard, it was a greasy, gritty team win for Iowa. It was necessary for the Hawkeyes to maintain their divisional title hopes and keep up with West Division leader Nebraska. A sixth straight trophy victory and an eighth straight true road win mattered, too.
But mostly the players wanted to enjoy that collective bond that comes from accomplishment. They were bruised, yet emboldened.
“Just to celebrate with your teammates and, obviously, everything that’s behind this game, it means a lot to us,” Snyder said.
Sure, the game lacked an elegance that national networks will showcase on highlight montages. But for Iowa, beauty lies in the eye of the pig holder.