At least Notre Dame and North Carolina State had rain. Fun rain. Comically intense rain. And an excuse.
Yet while Raleigh, N.C., felt the back of Hurricane Matthew’s hand, Minnesota and Iowa combined for the kind of numbers you’d normally expect of a game played in a stinking monsoon: Fifteen combined punts. Sixty-four pass attempts. Thirty-four incompletions. Six giveaways, three on each side.
In a game no one deserved to win, the Golden Gophers deserved to lose. Or, rather, deserved to win less. Iowa 14, Minnesota 7 was so ugly that in the fourth quarter, the Floyd of Rosedale trophy could be heard asking if it could go home with Gary Johnson or Jill Stein instead.
Breaking: Floyd of Rosedale just filed for emancipation from both the Iowa and Minnesota football programs.
— Judd Zulgad (@1500ESPNJudd) October 8, 2016
Of the aforementioned turnovers, four were interceptions, two by Iowa’s senior quarterback C.J. Beathard, who wasn’t great. And two were the work of his Minnesota counterpart, senior Mitch Leidner, who looked downright abysmal on a cool, dry, occasionally sunny Saturday afternoon, in a game the Golden Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) really, really, really needed.
Instead, the hosts got a lot of this:
— Max Neuhaus (@MaX_nEuHaUs) October 8, 2016
And, mostly, this:
#Gophers were 4-for-15 on 3rd down conversions today, facing an average of 9.9 yards per. Leidner was 2-for-9 passing in those situations.
— Ross Thede (@RossThedeTR) October 8, 2016
The final Leidner line: 13 completions on 33 attempts (good on 39.4 percent of his throws), 166 passing yards, two picks, two sacks, seven carries, one yard. On the whole, the senior’s day was eerily reminiscent of what Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook had run into up at Michigan a weekend earlier, save for a few, um, critical digressions:
- Hornibrook is a redshirt freshman and happened to be playing in his fourth collegiate game. For Leidner, this was No. 40.
- Michigan has one of the best defenses and and best secondaries on the continent. Iowa’s defense had given up 38 points the previous weekend at home. To Northwestern.
We would’ve called this one a slugfest, except for the fact it more often looked like two middleweight fighters swinging mostly at air, struggling to land so much as a single punch. The Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) came the closest, running 29 plays in Minnesota territory over the first three quarters and change. That Iowa came away with only six points to show for their effort either says something about the Hawkeyes or about Minnesota’s defense. Or, more likely, a little bit of both.
So Goldy managed to hang tough and live dangerously at the same time, and in the end, it cost them. Coach Tracy Claeys’ house of cards finally fell with 5:40 left in the game as the Hawkeyes got tailback Akrum Wadley free up the left sideline, safety help was nowhere to be found, and the Hawkeyes’ junior chugged 54 yards for the visitors’ first — and only — touchdown of the game. Wadley’s running mate, LeShun Daniels, punched in the 2-point conversion straight up the gut to put Iowa up 14-7.
On the Gophers’ subsequent drive, the fans at TCF Bank Stadium aching for a response, Minnesota’s first play was stopped by a false start on guard Jared Wyler.
And that, really, sort of summed up the Gophers’ afternoon as much as anything: A defense that became worn down thanks to an offense that never quite turned the engine over.
A second league loss this early doesn’t automatically doom the rest of Minnesota’s slate, but it does make for a beast of a climb to the top of the Big Ten West division standings, especially with Nebraska (5-0) and Wisconsin (4-1) still left on the docket.
And beating the Cornhuskers and Badges is tough enough without also beating yourself first. When the hosts weren’t gifting the ball away, they were busy stabbing themselves in one thigh or the other. In the fourth quarter, the Gophers were flagged for all 11 men failing to be set for at least one second — a false start — not once, but twice. Minnesota was whistled eight times for 58 yards in penalties on the afternoon, many of them drive-killers. Yet statistically, it was a relatively disciplined day — the Gophs came into the weekend leading the Big Ten in penalty yards per game, a hefty 75.8 per contest.
And even simple gifts usually wound up being discarded. With the hosts up 7-6 and the Hawkeyes threatening, Minnesota linebacker Nick Rallis forced a Riley McCarron fumble with 12:42 to go in the game, snuffing an Iowa drive at the Gophers’ 35. But the hosts went three-and-out again, punting the ball away and going back to the drawing board.
Now some Minnesota faithful are wondering if there’s a board in Claeys’ cupboard that doesn’t have Leidner name at the top of it. The 6-foot-4 signal-caller, touted by some as one of the better quarterback prospects available next spring in a not-terribly-promising quarterback pool, appeared out of rhythm and out of sync with his receivers from the outset, his timing continually dictated by Iowa’s pressure. The hosts didn’t convert a third down until there was 5:58 left in the first half. Leidner didn’t complete a pass until there was 4:26 to go in the second quarter.
— Tim Benz (@tonkatimb) October 8, 2016
With 2:39 to go in the contest and facing a second-and-10 at his own 29, Leidner, backpedaling, elected to let a rainbow go off his back foot. His receiver hadn’t turned around yet, and the only person who actually seemed to be expecting the ball was Iowa safety Brandon Snyder, who caught it like a low punt at the Minnesota 44.
In a day drenched in textbook ugly, that toss was among the ugliest. And unless something changes for Leidner, and for the Gophers, you wonder if things might start to get a whole heck of a lot uglier.