Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck has beaten each of his B1G West opponents except one. That one? You guessed it, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Since arriving in Dinkytown as the Gophers’ head coach in 2017, Fleck has compiled an overall record of 42-26. But none of those wins has come in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

As far as the folks in Minneapolis are concerned, there’s no better time than the present for Fleck to end the skid and earn his 1st win over Kirk Ferentz.

Home game. Senior day. Lots on the line. What better time to recapture the trophy and bring it back north for the first time since 2014. Fleck has the team to do it. But it won’t be easy.

Iowa’s recent dominance

None of the current Minnesota players has experienced a win over Iowa. It’s a mental hurdle the Gophers’ staff will have to help them tackle in practice leading up to Saturday’s game.

The Hawkeyes have won 7 straight in the series and are 17-4 against Goldy since 2001. It’s been a 1-sided affair. Add in the fact that Iowa has won 3 straight and is riding a ton of momentum, and it serves as a huge challenge for Fleck and his team.

In order to get over the hump and get in the win column against their rival, the Gophers will need to lean on 2 pillars of their season success. Defense and the running of Mohamed Ibrahim.

Expect a heavy dose of defense

The Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t messing around. They know what to expect. Defense. Lots of it.

So much defense, the over/under sits at 32.5. Yes, that’s right. Thirty-two and a half points for a 60 minute college football game. Unheard of.

The Iowa offense tallied 146 yards in a 24-10 win over Wisconsin. Ferentz’s team has found some magic in recent weeks. Cooper DeJean returned an interception for a TD. Het set the Hawkeyes up with a short field following a 41-yard punt return. Regardless of the putrid offensive output, Iowa is finding ways to manufacture points and scoring opportunities.

The defense forced 3 Badgers’ turnovers. Ball security will be a huge key for the Gophers’ offense.

Minnesota boasts a salty defensive unit of its own. DC Joe Rossi has his guys playing at a high level, 3rd in the league in points allowed. They kept Northwestern out of the end zone in a 31-3 win, while picking off Wildcats QBs twice. They held Evan Hull to just 54 yards on the ground while also recording 2 sacks and 4 TFL.

With 2 stingy defenses on display, the turnover battle will be amplified. Whomever comes out ahead in that area gives themselves a terrific chance of winning.

Offense needs to find another weapon in addition to Ibrahim

Ibrahim carried the offensive load last week. Thirty-six carries for 178 yards and 3 TDs. Fantastic numbers, yes. But don’t expect those same kind of results against this Iowa defense.

Plus, Ibrahim needs a co-pilot. The passing game is stuck in neutral. Whether its Athan Kaliakmanis or Tanner Morgan at QB this week matters little if the receivers (and QBs) can’t make routine plays. With just 64 yards through the air against the Wildcats and only 1 catch of more than 15 yards, that won’t be near enough production to get it done against an elite defense.

If it’s Kaliakmanis under center, he’ll need to be better. More consistent. Freshman growing pains surfaced against Northwestern. He missed several throws he needs to make.

But you can’t pin all the sluggishness in the passing game on 1 person. It’s a collective effort. And all groups — from QB, to receiver, to offensive line — must perform better. Iowa’s defense is nasty. The Hawkeyes will come to Huntington Bank Stadium strutting with confidence. They’ll pounce on any mistakes the Gophers make. They won’t let Ibrahim beat them solo.

Look for Dylan Wright or Michael Brown-Stephens to make a big play or 2 in the passing game. The Gophers, and Fleck, will need it if they want to reverse their fortunes in the series.

What’s on the line?

To be frank, plenty.

Saturday’s game is huge as far as West Division title hopes are concerned. It’s an ugly 4-car pile-up at the top. Along with Iowa, Minnesota is jousting for position with Purdue and Illinois. All sit at 4-3 in the league. Saturday’s loser in Minneapolis is virtually eliminated from getting to Indy.

Iowa was all but buried 3 weeks ago. All that was left was shoveling the dirt on top of the Hawkeyes’ grave. But Ferentz and his team have turned things around, winning 3 straight. They’ve done it with defense, special teams and a bit of luck. You know, typical Iowa football.

Now, the Hawkeyes are 2 wins (and an Illinois loss at Michigan) away from playing for a B1G title. Pretty remarkable, considering they have an offense that is unable to punch its way out of a wet paper sack.

Minnesota’s path is a bit more complicated. Beat Iowa and Wisconsin. Hope for help. Purdue has to drop a game. With the Boilers remaining schedule (Northwestern, @Indiana) it seems unlikely.

But the path ends abruptly if Fleck can’t find a way to beat his B1G West nemesis. Ferentz has his number, and newfound momentum.

Folks in Minnesota say the Floyd of Rosedale trophy is overdue to return north. It won’t be an easy task for the Gophers. Nothing ever is for this program.