For second consecutive year, Hawkeyes deal Gophers a rude awakening
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MINNEAPOLIS -- One couldn't help but feeling a sense of déjà vu.
For the second consecutive year, the Minnesota Gophers received a rude welcoming back to Big Ten play by the Iowa Hawkeyes.
While the Gophers defense struggled to hold up against Iowa's methodical offensive attack, Minnesota's offense looked overmatched and out-of-sync. As a result, the Gophers could do little more than watch Iowa issue a dismantling 23-7 defeat Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.
Flashback quickly to 2012. Holding a 4-0 record for the first time in three years, the Gophers walked into Kinnick Stadium with the hope of catching Iowa by surprise. The Hawkeyes, who ultimately won only four games, dominated the Gophers in nearly every facet to which coach Jerry Kill's squad could muster no sustained response.
Now, one year later the Gophers were once again 4-0 with rival Iowa on tap to serve as their first test in the Big Ten. Having experienced the struggle-filled run in the Big Ten that last season's loss to Iowa kickstarted, the Gophers appeared better primed to answer back in a critical early test of their progress.
But what transpired Saturday was close to a repeat of the disconcerting one-sided loss Iowa delivered when the two rivals last met.
"They outcoached us. They outplayed us. It is what it is. I've always been straightforward and that is about as forward as I can get," Kill said.
Mixing in quarterback Jake Rudock's arm and a punishing run game, Iowa compiled 464 total yards, while the Gophers scattered a season-low 165 yards.
Minnesota made the surprise call to go with sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson over Mitch Leidner after Nelson had been questionable all week with a strained right hamstring. Nelson's return after a one-game absence turned sour quickly. Iowa made sure Nelson and the "U" offense stayed rattled all afternoon, swarming in on rushing lanes and keeping the Gophers' already meek passing game from being a factor.
By halftime, Iowa led 17-0, but the score felt almost double that total with the Gophers offering few signs in the first half of being able to provide any sort of competitive rebuttal. The second half brought little relief, apart from a slick interception by safety Brock Vereen and a momentary glimmer of comeback late in the third quarter.
"It's continuing to be a problem for us, being able to come out in the first quarter and really match intensity," Nelson said post-game, showing a layer of frustration. "That's just something on a week to week basis we have to put more emphasis on."
As a whole, it was a key opportunity that went badly in the wrong direction for the Gophers. A victory or even a closely contested loss would have validated the signs of forward progress made in their rumble through their nonconference slate, a statement that the Gophers were ready to pose a threat in the Big Ten.
Instead, the defeat left a multitude of questions swirling around the Gophers, including whether or not it was foreshadowing of what could await them in their remaining seven games.
While there's no arguing that Saturday was a major failed test for the Gophers, the true measure of this year's squad, however, will be in how it responds in a daunting trip to Michigan next weekend, followed by a visit to Northwestern.
"It hurts. It's supposed to hurt, but we can't let it affect us (long-term)," safety Brock Vereen said. "If we expect to go into Michigan and get a win there it's going to take complete focus starting tomorrow. Let it hurt tonight, watch the film tomorrow, but Monday is a new week."
Therein lies a critical area of concern. Following last year's beatdown against, the Gophers didn't recover until three weeks later in a 44-28 victory over Purdue. Even then, the youthful team was unable to string together success from week to week.
In the Gophers' third go-around under Kill, the expectation is that the resiliency to weather setbacks of this nature has been instilled. That test begins next week in, of all places, the Big House.