The Golden Gophers’ undefeated run has come to an end.
Minnesota, which dropped to 9-1 with the loss, came storming out the gates against PSU last Saturday. But this time it was the Gophers’ opponent that had a scorching start.
Iowa, energized by a pair of freshmen — running back Tyler Goodson and receiver Tyrone Tracy — marched right down the field and scored touchdowns on its first two drives.
Meanwhile, the efficient Minnesota offense was not as crisp as it was a week ago. Minnesota’s first drive ended in a missed 50-yard field goal. The next two offensive possessions culminated with chip shot field goals — one from 24 yards and another from 20 on the final play of the first half.
Iowa would go into halftime leading 20-6, but Minnesota wouldn’t go down without a fight. Tanner Morgan hit Tyler Johnson for a 28-yard score on Minnesota’s opening drive of the second half, cutting the Iowa lead to 20-13. The momentum seemed to be on Minnesota’s side as the defense quickly forced a punt, putting the ball back in Morgan’s hands.
Minnesota marched deep into Iowa territory on the ensuing drive and coach P.J. Fleck opted to keep his offense on the field on 4th-and-4 from the Iowa 14. Minnesota had a perfect play set up, but Johnson dropped a would-be first down that would have set up first-and-goal with under two minutes left in the third quarter.
That drop would turn out to be a pivotal play.
The teams would go on to trade punts before Iowa knocked through a 27-yard field goal with 7:13 to play — a field goal that ultimately sealed the deal.
Minnesota did cut the score to 23-19 with 3:27 remaining and even got the ball back in the final minutes with a chance to go ahead. But a sack by A.J. Epenesa and an interception by Riley Moss put the game in the win column for the Hawkeyes and gave the Gophers their first loss.
What does this mean for Minnesota?
After beating Penn State, Minnesota made a massive climb from No. 17 to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Losing to a road team in a difficult road environment won’t cause the Gophers to drop dramatically, but the implications are more noteworthy from a divisional perspective.
With a win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Minnesota (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) would have been able to clinch the Big Ten West title on the road against two-win Northwestern next weekend. Instead, the loss creates what will likely be a division title game when No. 14 Wisconsin visits Minneapolis on Nov. 30.
Wisconsin improved to 8-2 (5-2 Big Ten) by handling Nebraska on Saturday. To set up the winner-take-all game in the West, the Badgers need to take care of Purdue (4-6, 3-4) at home next weekend.
In terms of the College Football Playoff, Minnesota still has a chance but has no margin for error. If the Gophers beat Northwestern, knock off Wisconsin to win the division and then go on to beat Ohio State (which plays Penn State next week for the East division lead) in the Big Ten title game, the committee is going to have a hard time keeping Minnesota out of the four-team playoff.
More Kinnick magic
Kinnick Stadium has always been a really tough place to play, so Iowa has been known to play spoiler for teams with College Football Playoff aspirations. It happened in 2016 when Iowa upset No. 3 Michigan. In 2017, it was No. 6 Ohio State that got upset at Kinnick.
This time around it wasn’t an upset — Iowa was actually a three-point favorite —but Kinnick Stadium’s reputation as one of the most difficult road environments in the country is no joke.
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