By Brendan Stiles
IOWA CITY, Iowa — As senior center James Ferentz snapped the ball to senior quarterback James Vandenberg on the final play, the race was on.
Ferentz and the rest of the offensive line made a dead sprint towards Kinnick Stadium’s visiting sideline. The rest of the team followed. Floyd of Rosedale was carried off the field and back into the Iowa locker room for the first time in three years.
The Hawkeyes’ 31-13 win over Minnesota on Saturday not only ended a two-year losing streak to the Golden Gophers. It was the culmination of what was a trying week in Iowa City, one that saw Iowa’s character and mental toughness tested as it tried to rebound from a disheartening loss to Central Michigan just seven days earlier.
“I felt like throughout the week, there was sort of a sense that a significant portion of the fan base and the media had written us off,” junior linebacker James Morris said. “For us, it was about getting a win for us, getting our confidence back going and knowing that if we can get it going together and get things clicking, we can play good football.”
For the fifth week in a row, the Iowa offense put up points on its opening drive as junior kicker Mike Meyer connected on a 44-yard field goal to put the Hawkeyes ahead 3-0. The defense then delivered with one of the key plays of the entire game.
On Minnesota’s fourth play from scrimmage, quarterback Max Shortell threw a deep ball down the sideline to wideout A.J. Barker that was initially ruled incomplete. However, junior free safety Tanner Miller took the ball away from Barker and came down in bounds with the ball possessed. The call on the field was overturned and Iowa took over at its own 20-yard line.
Shortell finished 20-of-33 passing for 197 yards, but was only 4-of-11 with 32 yards passing in the first half when the Hawkeyes were doing the bulk of their damage.
“I saw his eyes get pretty big, so I knew the ball was coming down there,” Miller said. “So I just going to, at the least, knock it down and make sure he didn’t catch it. Then the next thing I know, it’s in my lap. It had all happened real fast and I didn’t know if I had gotten a foot inbounds or anything like that.
“It was a quick play, and it turned out to be a big play in the game.”
In the second quarter, Iowa would go on a scoring flurry. It began with sophomore fullback Mark Weisman scoring on the quarter’s first play from eight yards out to make it 10-0. His touchdown came on a drive that featured consecutive carries of 27 and 44 yards.
To go along with his one touchdown, Weisman posted his third straight 100-yard rushing performance, compiling 177 yards on 21 carries with 155 of those yards coming in the first half alone.
“[The offensive line] is opening up more and more holes and I’m seeing them now, too,” Weisman said. “There were holes before that maybe I wasn’t seeing as well. I’m seeing them a little better now and I’m more comfortable back there, more confident.
“They’re unbelievable, the O-line. They’re making my life easy.”
After an ensuing three-and-out from the Golden Gopher offense, Iowa delivered its second biggest haymaker. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg’s lone touchdown pass of the day came on a flea flicker. After Weisman tossed the ball back to Vandenberg, he found an open Jordan Cotton down the middle of the field for a 47-yard score that made it 17-0. The touchdown was the first of Cotton’s career.
“I caught the laces first grab and I see Cotton,” Vandenberg said. “Cotton hasn’t even turned his head yet and there’s that clock in your head, especially on a flea flicker, like, ‘You better throw it.’ So it was just one of those things where I was going to throw it about as high as I could to make sure Cotton could turn around and make a play.”
Vandenberg would score on a QB sneak the next series and Iowa extended its lead to 24-0 at halftime. The Hawkeyes’ final score of the afternoon came in the fourth quarter with Minnesota facing fourth down. Junior linebacker Christian Kirksey, who earlier in the second half recovered a Golden Gopher fumble, intercepted Shortell and returned his pick 68 yards for a touchdown that made it 31-7 with 5:15 remaining.
“It took a lot of pressure off our back and gave us a comfortable lead,” Morris said. “That’s what great players do. He stepped up and made a great play when he had the chance.
Now with Floyd of Rosedale back in its possession, Iowa enters its bye week, then plays four of its next six games away from Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes’ next game will be Oct. 13 at Michigan State, who fell to 3-2 after losing 17-16 to Ohio State on Saturday. The Spartans play at Indiana next week. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. Central with television still to be determined.