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Iowa Dismantles Minnesota 23-7 - Nelson, Gophers Struggle Against Physical Hawkeyes

09/28/2013, 10:00pm CDT
By Travis Erickson and Grant Erickson

Minnesota couldn't stop Iowa running back Mark Weisman who rushed for 147 yards.

With the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) in town for homecoming, the stage was set for a big game between two long-time rivals. Unfortunately for Minnesota (4-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten), the contest was similar to last season in Iowa City, this time losing by a score of 23-7. The Gophers struggled on both sides of the ball, giving up 464 yards while only gaining 165 of their own. Although crushed by the loss, Minnesota will look to build on their performance and learn from its glaring mistakes.


Quarterback Situation

With Philip Nelson hampered by a hamstring injury, the decision of whether to play was left up to the sophomore quarterback prior to Saturday’s game.


“We repped both [quarterbacks] all week,” said Jerry Kill after the game. “With a hamstring injury, he practiced and moved and threw and did all the things just like we normally do. We felt comfortable that if he could play, he would. It was going to be his call. He felt that he was 100-percent; that he’d be able to go. He was mentally prepared. Mitch [Leidner] was mentally prepared. That’s my call, my responsibility to make sure they’re ready. We just have to do a better job.”


Nelson had a feeling earlier in the week that he would be ready to play against the Hawkeyes.


“Right before game time we all had a talk,” said Nelson. “The coaches left it up to me, because obviously I know my body best. [Coach Kill] wasn’t able to really make the judgment based off how I was feeling.”


Nelson ended the game completing just 12 of his 24 passes for 135 yards to go with two interceptions and touchdown. Some may question Kill’s decision to not put in Mitch Leidner but Kill noted that the run game was taken away, forcing the Gophers to keep their biggest passing threat on the field.


“We made the decision and the game didn’t dictate that we play Mitch [Leidner] because we couldn’t run the ball,” said Kill. “I’ve been in a similar situation before, but today I think switching quarterbacks during the game wouldn’t have changed much of our play.”


Although Nelson struggled in the game, Kill was adamant that the Gophers will continue with what they have been doing. The plan will be to rep two quarterbacks in practice with the expectation that either could play depending on what the defense shows.


“[Nelson] was our guy at the start [of the season] and Mitch played, came in and did a good job,” said Kill. “We’ll keep working with those two kids. Next week, they may both play in certain situations. We did it at Northern [Illinois] and we’ll do it here.”


Gophers Beat Up Front

Physically, the Gophers got dominated in the trenches, managing just 30 rushing yards while giving up 246 yards on the ground to Mark Weisman and the Hawkeyes.


“From what I noticed during the game, we couldn’t move Iowa,” said Kill. “They’d slide off a block and make a play. They handled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball better than we did. When you can run the ball you can have some success, but we didn’t run the ball well today.”


After averaging over 280 rushing yards per game in their first four contests, Minnesota was stifled by a strong Iowa defense on Saturday.


 “We take a lot of pride in our run game and anytime that you can’t really run the football as well as you’d hope, it really affects the rest of the game plan,” said Nelson.


Defensively, the Gophers struggled up front to contain the 236-pound Weisman who rumbled for 147 yards on 24 carries. In order to succeed in Big Ten play, Minnesota will need to be able to stop strong, physical backs.


“That’s the Big Ten conference,” said defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli. “You look at our personnel; Rodrick Williams, Donnell Kirkwood and [David] Cobb even has some size to him. It wasn’t a surprise to see a big back. You expect that. We’re in Big Ten conference play so that was a known.”


Engel Stands Out

Derrick Engel was one of the bright spots for the Gophers, hauling in five catches for 67 yards and the Gophers’ only score of the game. Engel was able to create separation off the line of scrimmage to get open and give Nelson a downfield target.


“They tried to press him a couple times, they tried to wall him off with two guys a couple times but he did a really good job getting off the press and really gaining separation,” said Nelson of his wide receiver. “Him playing “X” means he gets a lot of 1-on-1 looks. That’s what you saw on the touchdown. He did a great job of getting off the press and getting open.”


Looking Forward

In the face of their first loss of the season, Minnesota will take it as a learning experience to prepare for the rest of the grueling Big Ten Schedule.


“We were beaten soundly today,” said Kill. “We can grow form this by sticking together and getting better one day at a time. We have to look at the film and do a better job of coaching. I take responsibility for our lack of successful coaching.”


The Gophers will face an even tougher test next week as they travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines who will be fresh coming off a bye week.


“We’ve got Michigan next week and then a week off,” said Kill. “This game needs to leave a bad taste in our mouths. We have to wake up tomorrow and go back to work."

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