Third quarter important in elimination game between Minnesota and Iowa
Neither team expected to be in this position so early in the season.
Iowa and Minnesota – one coming off a B1G West title and a 12-0 regular season and the other picked by ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to be the surprising winner of the division this season – are faced with a do-or-die situation. With each suffering its first conference loss of the season last week, there’s more at stake than a 98-pound bronze pig in this year’s battle for the Floyd of Rosedale.
Tracy Claeys and Kirk Ferentz probably went overboard with the mouthwash after last weekend, both trying to rid their taste buds from the sour flavor of blowing halftime leads. Minnesota held a 13-3 advantage before Penn State knotted things up in regulation and scored the winning touchdown on a 25-yard run by Saquon Barkley on the first play of overtime.
At Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes suffered a similar fate. After leading 24-17 in the second half, Iowa had trouble containing Northwestern’s offense. The Wildcats rattled off 21 straight points, sparking a 38-31 victory. Thanks to a pair of poor second half performances, we have an elimination bout kicking off on Saturday rather than a battle of conference unbeatens.
There are going to be some key things to keep an eye on this weekend. The Gophers are going to miss linebacker Cody Poock, defensive end Tai’yon Devers and safety Duke McGhee while Iowa continues its search for a primary receiver with Matt VandeBerg out. Minnesota needs to be weary of big plays on special teams – Desmond King had 162 yards on kick and punt returns last week – and Iowa needs to find a way to slow down the B1G’s fourth-best rushing attack.
Ultimately, though, this game is going to be determined by the same thing that hindered both teams a week ago. The third quarter.
Both teams have struggled in the 15 minutes following halftime this year, and we saw a few days ago how costly it can be. Minnesota is being outscored 50-17 in third quarters this season. Against Penn State, they were outscored 17-0. Iowa hasn’t been quite that bad and is actually outscoring its foes 31-28 in the period. But that total is a bit deceiving.
If you take away the Iowa State game, which seems like it was years ago anyway, the Hawkeyes are losing third quarters 28-17. In the loss to Northwestern, they were outscored 14-3.
Neither of those totals is going to cut it, not in the B1G.
What may be more telling is the overall offensive production for both teams in third quarters this year. Iowa has totaled just 324 yards in those periods this year, which comes out to a 64.8 average. An though that total is low, if you take away the game against the Cyclones again, the numbers get worse. In its other four games this season, Iowa has totaled just 203 yards in the third quarter, a whisker above a 50-yard average.
Production offensively for both teams was particularly bad in losses last week. Against Penn State, the Gophers ran 15 plays and earned just 42 total yards. Two of the Hawkeyes’ three third quarter possessions ended without gaining a single yard.
Whichever team cures its post-halftime issues is going to put itself in a better position to win on Saturday. But we’re heading into the sixth week of the season and neither has seemed to make many adjustments that have had much impact.
Iowa is in a slightly better position heading into this weekend. Even though its been hindered by its offensive inefficiencies in the second half, at least the Hawkeyes are not surrendering points at will in the second half. They’ve given up just 28 points in third quarters this year, 14 of those were scored by the Wildcats. Ferentz’s bunch isn’t being demoralized in those periods, it’s just struggled to move the ball.
Minnesota has been a different story. Oregon State held a 23-17 lead over the Gophers after a 9-0 third quarter in the season-opener. Colorado State was able to hang around when they were able to hang 10 after halftime. I’ve already mentioned several times what happened in the Penn State game last week.
Iowa’s offense has some pretty nice pieces. Minnesota’s too. With C.J. Beathard and Mitch Leidner at the quarterback spots, you’d be silly to believe that neither of these teams is capable of putting up some big third quarter numbers. Through five weeks of the season, the play-calling has been rather conservative after halftime, though, leading to some pretty lopsided figures.
In a make-or-break game, though, we may see something different. Or we may not.
The battle for the Floyd of Rosedale may come down to just one quarter. Making the right adjustments at halftime is going to be key, not just this week, but as we begin to enter the brunt of the B1G schedule.
Too bad only one of them will be in the race for the division title after Saturday.