Four things the football teams from Iowa and Nebraska can do to put themselves in a position to win Friday at Memorial Stadium: NEBRASKA (5-6, 3-4) 1. Find the right mix. With a blustery day in the forecast Friday in November, the Cornhuskers can help themselves by finding the right mix between the pass and run. As productive as Tommy Armstrong has been through the air, Nebraska will need to put its rushing attack together if it hopes to beat Iowa. Terrell Newby, the team's rushing leader this season, has carried just five times in Nebraska's last two games because of a foot injury. Senior Imani Cross has experience and has rushed for more than 90 yards in the Cornhuskers' wins over Michigan State and Rutgers. He'll need to top that against Iowa. 2. Stand your ground. Nebraska's rush defense is pretty salty, led by a front that coach Kirk Ferentz described as an "NFL line'' earlier this week. It is anchored by pair of tackles in Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, two 300 pounders who blend athleticism and physical strength that has worked well with the expectations of first-year defensive coordinator Mark Banker. He wants all of the Cornhuskers' defensive linemen to be active participants in creating havoc. Collins and Valentine oblige. They have combined for 10 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks this season. They are complemented by a solid end in Freedom Akinmoladun, who leads Nebraska with 6 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. 3. Win the turnover battle. This has been an issue for Nebraska this season. As dangerous as Tommy Armstrong can be at the controls of the Cornhuskers' offense, particularly when he breaks contain and is able to throw on the run, the junior has been turnover prone. Armstrong has thrown 12 of the 17 interceptions recorded by Nebraska quarterbacks this season. The Cornhuskers have given the ball away 22 times this year, while picking up just 12 turnovers. That -10 turnover margin ranks 13th in the Big Ten and in this game, is contrasted by the +11 turnover margin that has helped Iowa win the first 11 games on its schedule. Takeaways on a less-than-ideal weather day can be huge. 4. Defend the pass. As productive as the Nebraska passing game has been, the Cornhuskers have given way plenty of points and big plays through the air as well. The Huskers are allowing 305.5 passing yards per game, a number that ranks 13th in the Big Ten and nearly 30 yards out of 12th. Nate Gerry leads Nebraska with four of the team's eight interceptions this season and has also broken up a team-high seven passes. IOWA (11-0, 7-0) 1. Establish the run. Some things never change, and the ability of Iowa to win will largely be determined by the Hawkeyes' ability to control things at the point of attack. The play of interior linemen Jordan Walsh, Austin Blythe and Sean Welsh against two of the best defensive tackles Iowa has seen this season in Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins will be critical. Iowa's ground game remains its bread and butter, averaging 208.3 yards per game. Jordan Canzeri received the bulk of the work last week against Purdue, as LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley combined for three second-half carries against the Boilermakers. Iowa did utilize all four of its running backs during its first series against Purdue. Expect a blend of backs to continue in what has been Iowa's most productive offense since 2002. 2. Contain the quarterback. The Hawkeyes' ability to maintain contain as they deal with Tommy Armstrong will be a critical component in Friday's game. The junior is capable on the run not only with his feet but thrown many of his Big Ten-best 21 touchdown passes while on the run. He's been inconsistent, completing 54.7 percent of his 338 passes and his 12 interceptions equals the most of any QB in the Big Ten. 3. Play same-page defense. The Hawkeyes have struggled with this at times over the past two weeks. Iowa's pass rush has shown signs of the wear of a long season, recording just two sacks in wins over Minnesota and Purdue. The back end of the defense has had its issues as well. Cornerback Desmond King said there were times against the Boilermakers when communication breakdowns cost Iowa, where players on one side of the field were running a different coverage than those on the other. Fixing those issues have been a focus on the practice field this week. The ability to solve the problems will weigh heavily in the outcome of Friday's game. 4. Finish. Unlike a year ago when Nebraska rallied in the second half from a 24-7 deficit to win at Iowa, finishing hasn't been an issue for the Hawkeyes this season. If they hope to finish off the program's first unbeaten regular season since 1922, the Hawkeyes will need to finish at Nebraska. They will need to finish plays, finish drives and add to their collection of 18 touchdown drives of 75 yards or more, and finally, finish off games with continued success in the fourth quarter. Iowa has outscored its competition 97-72 in the second half of games this season, including 66-53 in the fourth quarter. Maintaining that edge will be significant against a Cornhuskers team that will be playing for its bowl life on Friday, needing a win to become bowl eligible. This should be one final 60-minute test for Iowa.
It was just one snap, tucked away at the near the end of game that had already been decided, but it meant the world to one Iowa football player and everyone around him. Darian Cooper, sidelined since before the start of the 2014 season because of a significant knee injury and an extended rehab period, returned to action for the Hawkeyes on Senior Day. In the final game of his career at Kinnick Stadium, Cooper's appearance was strictly a cameo. He came in, did his job at defensive tackle for one snap in the Hawkeyes' game last weekend against Purdue, then left to high fives and hugs from teammates and coaches along the Iowa sideline. "That meant the world to me, to get back out there with my teammates,'' Cooper said. "I've been working hard to make it happen. It felt great.'' It's been a long, hard climb for Cooper to return to the field. A starter in two games who saw action in 12 games as redshirt freshman in 2012 and played in all 13 games the following year, Cooper had worked his way onto the depth chart behind senior Carl Davis heading into fall camp last season. His injury dashed his opportunity to participate a year ago, the severity creating challenges that have extended into what would have been his senior season. Coach Kirk Ferentz today took time to praise the perseverance Cooper has shown. "He's fought hard. He's worked hard. He's not 100 percent, and I'm sure he probably told you that today,'' Ferentz said. "But, he's worked extremely hard and it was extremely important to get him in. We were trying like crazy to give him an opportunity to play, and it just worked out. Really glad about that.'' Among the first to greet him on the sideline was defensive line coach Reese Morgan, who Cooper said has been there for him "every step of the way.'' Cooper said the moment will live with him forever. And when it happened, nobody was happier than Cooper. He understands he won't be 100 percent healthy before the current season ends, but Ferentz adds that "he's getting there,'' making slow, but steady progress. Cooper is on schedule to receive his degree from Iowa in May and Ferentz said his personality should help him throughout life. And if another snap or two between now and the end of the season comes his way, Cooper is willing. "If they need me in the next game, I'll be ready,'' Cooper said. "Whatever I can give this team, I want to give.'' He has been there every step of the way through the Hawkeyes' 11-0 start and he said the team's success has made it easier to watch. "I think this situation would have been harder for me if we weren't having a good season this year,'' Cooper said. "To be around everybody and give them the support I can, I can always feel good about that. They've been there for me and I do what I can to be there for them.''
First-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley finds himself with a dilemma. Riley enjoys the way the Iowa defense works, but he finds no joy in preparing to deal with the Hawkeye defense this week. "The thing I really like about their defense and the thing I really don't like about their defense right now is the way they don't give up big plays,'' Riley said today at his weekly news conference in Lincoln, where the Cornhuskers are preparing for Friday's 2:30 p.m. Heroes Game between the third-ranked Hawkeyes and a Nebraska team that needs a win in its regular-season finale to become bowl eligible. The Cornhuskers will test Iowa with a passing attack that now ranks as the most productive in the Big Ten, averaging 272.7 yards per game off the arm of quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Riley expects the Hawkeyes' defense, which has been a bit wobbly against the pass in wins over Minnesota and Purdue the past two weeks, to provide Armstrong with one of his biggest tests of the year. In particular, Riley expects Nebraska receivers to be tested not only by the Iowa secondary, but by the linebackers working in front of the back four. "Their linebackers are very disruptive,'' Riley said. "If Jordan Westerkamp is in the slot, there will be a linebacker there to lock him up every time. ... Their linebackers do the best job of anybody we've seen of disrupting things. We'll have to be strong in running our routes.'' Riley expects some of that to fall on the Nebraska offensive line, which he said must protect Armstrong well enough to on occasion buy a few extra seconds. "If they can do that and give the receivers a little extra time to get back and win in the secondary, that will be big,'' Riley said. "That will be a big issue in this game.'' Nebraska enters the Iowa game coming off of a bye week and Riley views the break as significant from a mental standpoint as it was from a physical perspective at this point in the season. Although coaches introduced a bit of what the Hawkeyes were about last week, Riley gave his team three days off late last week before turning thoughts totally to Iowa beginning on Sunday. Riley views this week as an opportunity for his team, much like the mantra he preached when unbeaten Michigan State arrived in Lincoln on Nov. 7 and left with a loss. He also believes that wins over the Spartans and on Nov. 14 at Rutgers have moved his team forward. "We're gotten better in a lot of areas,'' he said. "We played as good of defense as we've played in our last game and we played it in all parts, our pass rush, pass coverage, the way we defended the run, we looked like the defense I want us to look like moving forward.''
The week-to-week drama of college football is what keeps people coming back and this week, that drama has led to a change at the top of my weekly ballot for the Associated Press poll. Michigan State's win at Ohio State and Oklahoma State's loss at Baylor along with Houston's loss to Bob Diaco-coached Connecticut have left Clemson and Iowa as the only unbeaten teams on the college football landscape. The Tigers and Hawkeyes are both among teams moving up on my weekly ballot, which underwent a bit of a makeover. I moved Clemson and Alabama up one spot in the first two positions and I opted to move Iowa into the third spot, a move of two positions after voting them fifth a week ago. I held Notre Dame in the fourth position following its 19-16 win over Boston College at Fenway Park last night and moved Oklahoma into the fifth position following its win over TCU. Michigan State, with a one-point loss at Nebraska the only blemish on its resume, climbs into sixth after its win in Columbus. Baylor, which went on the road to hand the Cowboys a 10-point loss, moves into the seventh spot followed by Ohio State, North Carolina and Florida. Oklahoma State starts my next 10, which includes Michigan at 12 and Northwestern at 14 following road wins at Penn State and Wisconsin on Saturday. The Wolverines continue to roll and the Wildcats seemingly have their act together, thus the rise from 20 to 14 this week. I dropped the Badgers from 18 to 22 after their 13-7 loss, ahead of three newcomers to my ballot. Losses by Utah, LSU and Southern Cal dropped each off of my top 25, replaced by Mississippi State, Washington State and UCLA. Here is my ballot for this week's poll: 1. Clemson 2. Alabama 3. Iowa 4. Notre Dame 5. Oklahoma 6. Michigan State 7. Baylor 8. Ohio State 9. North Carolina 10. Florida 11. Oklahoma State 12. Michigan 13. Stanford 14. Northwestern 15. Navy 16. TCU 17. Florida State 18. Oregon 19. Houston 20. Mississippi 21. Toledo 22. Wisconsin 23. Mississippi State 24. Washington State 25. UCLA
Iowa received a trophy and Hawkeye players received t-shirts and caps, all of the trappings that go along with winning the West Division in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes held their celebration in private, behind closed doors shortly after Iowa finished off Purdue 40-20 this afternoon to earn the program's first-ever berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. The team's 21 seniors posed for pictures with the trophy they've worked since January to call their own. It will have a place next to the more hardware the Hawkeyes have earned this season. The Cy-Hawk Trophy, the Heartland Trophy and Floyd of Rosedale all have Iowa City addresses as a result of wins during the Hawkeyes' 11-0 start to the season. A year ago, Iowa was giving those away like candy at an Independence Day parade. It was around Independence Day when the Hawkeyes got the subtle message that it was time to change. Well, maybe the message wasn't so subtle. A smashed and empty trophy case, with an axe of destruction, appeared in the Iowa football complex earlier this summer. A weight room reminder of what the Hawkeyes had given away and the need to change, the mangled mess has shown up a few times during the current season, usually early in the week of trophy games. "Seeing that empty case, that was a punch in the gut,'' Iowa center Austin Blythe said. "That's not acceptable around here. It was time to change the way things were.'' Goals were established, the bar was raised. And all season long, the Hawkeyes have worked to fix what was broken. Players have spent the season trying to figure out just who took the axe to the trophy case. Nobody's admitting to being the guy, although it doesn't appear to have been the work of players. Coach Kirk Ferentz said today he wasn't the guy. "I couldn't smash anything, maybe an egg or something, I don't know. I never asked, though. I never had anybody investigate,'' Ferentz said. "But I think the message was there. And again, it wasn't just those games, it was more about if you're going to win a trophy you've got to earn it, you've got to do things right.'' It's been all about the attention to detail, every little detail that makes all the difference in a game of inches where success is measured on one side or the other of markers 10 yards apart. "The little things and doing them right is something we've been focused on since day one,'' running back Jordan Canzeri said. "Little things lead to big things, both positively and negatively. We've kept the vibe positive, kept focusing on every little thing that can make a big difference. It's worked.'' Because of that, the Hawkeyes had a chance to celebrate in a small way today before turning the attention to Nebraska when the team arrives for practice shortly afternoon Sunday. Ferentz opted to keep the title celebration private as a reminder that the chance to finish the regular season as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten is days away in another trophy game, The Heroes Game, and another trophy will be on the line the following week in Indianapolis. "I've never been involved with winning a division, so that's a little different, and while we're not downplaying it, we're really proud of what we've accomplished, we're six days out from playing again and we're playing a team that's been sitting back all week watching us,'' Ferentz said. "We've got some ground to make up and we've still got a season to finish out.''
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Purdue can do to put themselves in a position to win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium: PURDUE (2-8, 1-5) 1. Avoid the issues. As indicated by a 2-8 record, problems have been plentiful this season for Purdue. Quarterback David Blough has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season, but he has recorded eight of the 14 interceptions thrown by Purdue this season. The Boilermakers are among seven Big Ten teams with negative turnover margins, something they must avoid against an opportunistic Iowa team. Kicker Paul Griggs, who coach Darrell Hazell has described as his team's only option, has endured a nightmarish senior season. Griggs delivered a 47-yard field goal as time expired to beat Iowa 27-24 in 2012 in Purdue's last visit to Iowa City, but he has hit just 3-of-9 attempts this season. In part because of those struggles, the Boilermakers have attempted just one field goal in six Big Ten games. Griggs missed that try from 43 in a 14-14 game at Northwestern last week. 2. Have Blough play beyond his years. Redshirt freshman David Blough has had the type of redshirt freshman season that many Big Ten rookies have had. He's been effective at times and inconsistent at others. The 6-foot-1 Texan has completed 57.6 percent of his passes this season, connecting on 166-of-288 attempts for 1,565 yards. He excelled in a 55-44 win over Nebraska, completing 28-of-43 passes for 274 yards and four scores, struggled through a 29-of-47 day and was intercepted twice the next week in a 48-14 loss to Illinois and followed that up last week with a 26-of-45 game in a 21-14 loss at Northwestern. Hot. Cold. Lukewarm. That's life as a redshirt freshman at a position that has been problematic for Purdue in recent seasons. Blough is the 10th starting quarterback for the Boilermakers since 2008 and in making his eighth straight start this week, he is in the midst of the longest string of starts for a Purdue QB since Caleb TerBush started 13 straight games in 2011. 3. Be big on the backside. Weather and the health of Iowa QB C.J. Beathard -- nursing a hip pointer suffered on a quarterback sneak last week vs Minnesota -- may impact their opportunities, but the Purdue secondary is a veteran one. Cornerbacks Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown are among the strongest tandems at their positions in the Big Ten. Williams recorded a 39-yard pick six thrown by Beathard early in his first start for Iowa a year ago in West Lafayette. He recorded the 10th interception of his career last week at Northwestern and has teamed with Brown to pick off seven passes and break up 10 more this season. Safety Leroy Clark is Purdue's tackles leader, recording 69 through 10 games. 4. Stay aggressive The struggles that kicker Paul Griggs has had and game situations have led Purdue to become the most aggressive team in the Big Ten in terms attempting to move the chains on fourth down. Purdue has been successful 17 times in 33 fourth-down conversion attempts this season, both numbers that lead the Big Ten. The Boilermakers' number of successful conversions tops the number of attempted fourth-down tries by 10 Big Ten teams. IOWA (10-0, 6-0) 1. Establish the run. Never has this been a truer objective. With potentially dicey weather -- more than a half-foot of snow followed by 20-to-30 mile per hour north winds are in the forecast -- the ability to run the ball will be significant and Iowa has a stable full of horses to accomplish that. The strength and power of LeShun Daniels, coming off of a 195-yard rushing performance against Minnesota, along with the improved health of Jordan Canzeri and Akrum Wadley and the growth of Derrick Mitchell as a rushing and receiving threat, has helped Iowa average 211.7 yards per game on the ground. That is the Hawkeyes' most productive work since 2002 when Iowa ran the table in Big Ten play on its way to the Orange Bowl while averaging just over 214 rushing yards per game. Against Purdue, the Hawkeyes face the Big Ten's most porous rush defense. The Boilermakers are allowing 209.6 yards per game on the year and 233 yards in league games. Both are by far the worst numbers allowed by a Big Ten defense this season and in the past two weeks, Illinois and Northwestern have combined to run for 632 yards against Purdue. 2. Seize the moment. Iowa has some tangible goals in front of it this week. With a win, the Hawkeyes will clinch the West Division title in the Big Ten and a berth in the conference championship game. Iowa can also earn the program's unbeaten home season since 2004 if it can add to its current 6-0 start. Iowa has won seven homes games in a single season at Kinnick Stadium just once before, in 2003. The Hawkeyes have 11 perfect seasons at home in the program's 126-year history. 3. Tighten things up on defense. A staple throughout the season, the Hawkeyes struggled at times a week ago against Minnesota on defense. Iowa allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more, not typical of the work that the Hawkeyes have done this season. Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had plenty to do with that on his way to a 301-yard passing day, but Iowa a return to the basics is likely this week. Purdue has capable receivers, a group led by Danny Anthrop and DeAngelo Yancey. The pair have combined for 78 receptions so far this season. Yancey is a speed guy, while Anthrop becomes David Blough's primary target on a number of short routes. Both will test the Hawkeye secondary. Led by Desmond King's eight picks, matching an Iowa single-season record, the Hawkeyes are second to Michigan State in the Big Ten with 20 takeaways this season. Iowa has recovered seven fumbles and picked off 13 passes while enjoying a plus-11 turnover margin that also rates as the second best in the Big Ten. 4. Utilize depth. Kirk Ferentz called it a healthy situation earlier this week and he's right. The return of a healthy Ike Boettger on the Iowa offensive line only helps create additional options for coaches at the tackle spots. Cole Croston has actually taken more snaps than any of the players who have lined up at tackle this season as Boone Myers and Boettger had dealt with injuries. Having three healthy bodies will create an opportunity for coaches to rotate the three and provide additional strength to what has developed into the strongest segment of the Hawkeye attack. The game is expected to be Boettger's first since suffering a neck area injury during an Oct. 10 game against Illinois. Depth can prove to be advantageous for Iowa in a match-up against Purdue, where coach Darrell Hazell was given a vote of confidence last week by administrators as he continues to grow his program. Hazell said prior to this season that the Boilermakers "looked like a Big Ten football team'' for the first time in his three seasons, an acknowledgement of the strength gains the program has been working to make to compete more favorably against Big Ten teams.
As C.J. Beathard makes his own case to become a training room MVP this season, adding a hip pointer to a collection of black-and-blue battle scars that includes additional hip and groin injuries, his resiliency his setting a tone for his teammates. "To watch him continue to get back up and get back on the field, it says a lot about him and the type of leader he is,'' receiver Tevaun Smith said. "Not all quarterbacks would try to keep battling the way he has this season.'' Beathard views as part of the job, part of what he is about and the approach he has always taken to the game. When he took a helmet to the hip on a quarterback sneak during the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Minnesota, the stinging pain could be felt in the silence of the crowd as trainer's rushed to assist him. Beathard wanted to get back up and get after it, only to be told by trainers to slow it all down a bit. In part, they wanted to provide back-up Tyler Wiegers with a few additional seconds to warm up. Beathard enjoyed the view from the sidelines only briefly, returning to hand off the ball the rest of the way and run the Iowa offense the way he has all season. "When he's in the huddle, there's no question who is control,'' offensive guard Jordan Walsh said. "He's a warrior and good teams have somebody like C.J. running things. He's ready to go to battle every week and we're comfortable with somebody like that out there.'' Beathard said today that he remains sore from an injury that mirrors one he suffered a year ago in a game against Indiana. In that instance, he didn't play the following week. That won't be the case this time. "I'll be out there,'' he said. "It's that time of the year. Everybody is a little banged up. The training staff here does an incredible job of getting me ready to go every week and there's no doubt in my mind that will be the case again. It's a big game. I'm going to be out there.'' His teammates wouldn't have it any other way. "The way he has grown as a leader, it's been pretty impressive,'' running back Jordan Canzeri said. "Once he moved into the top spot on the depth chart, he really rallied everybody and the way he gets after, that rubs off on us all. He's helped this team develop a toughness that makes a difference.''
Eight teams on ballot for last week's Associated Press college football lost over the weekend and several more survived scares. That all has all led to a shake up on this Sunday's ballot, which begins with Ohio State and Clemson holding down the top-two spots. Both had solid road wins last week. No need to move either. The fun starts beyond there, where Baylor's loss to Oklahoma illustrates as much as anything how well the Sooners are playing. Bob Stoops' team may be the best in the Big 12 and will have a chance to prove that with remaining games against TCU and Oklahoma State the next two weeks. The Bears' loss moves Alabama into the third spot on my ballot, followed by Notre Dame and Iowa. I'm slipping the Hawkeyes ahead of the escape artists from Oklahoma State this week. Both are 10-0. I have the Cowboys at six, followed by Oklahoma, Michigan State, Florida and TCU. The shake up continues down the ballot following losses Stanford, LSU, UCLA, Mississippi State, Temple and Memphis. I dropped UCLA, Mississippi State, Temple and Memphis off of my ballot this week. Joining things are Southern Cal, Oregon, Toledo and Mississippi in the 22-25 spots. Here's how I break it down this week, which given what took place Saturday will be due for another makeover in seven days which is part of the beauty of college football: 1. Ohio State 2. Clemson 3. Alabama 4. Notre Dame 5. Iowa 6. Oklahoma State 7. Oklahoma 8. Michigan State 9. Florida 10. TCU 11. Baylor 12. Houston 13. North Carolina 14. Utah 15. Michigan 16. Stanford 17. LSU 18. Wisconsin 19. Florida State 20. Northwestern 21. Navy 22. Southern California 23. Oregon 24. Toledo 25. Mississippi
The lights are still on at Kinnick Stadium. The crowds are packing the last of their tailgate gear away and finally getting a chance to reflect on what was truly a November day to remember at this place where Nile Kinnick once competed and Forest Evashevski once coach Hawkeye teams to national prominence. It's doubtful that there has ever been a day like what took place today here. From morning until dark, the word electric was thrown around by participants and spectators alike from the group of 42,287 that showed up to watch the Iowa wrestling team open its season with an 18-16 win over top-ranked Oklahoma State. Many stayed around to fill every seat in the place -- 70,585 of them to be exact -- as the unbeaten Hawkeye football team stayed that way with a 40-35 win over Minnesota in a game decided in the final minutes. They participated in a blackout, watched Iowa players take the field in alternate uniforms and reclaim Floyd of Rosedale, the 11th time in 15 years the Hawkeyes have won the prized porker. They caught the Iowa football team venture to where the Hawkeyes have never ventured before, a 10-0 start to the season and positioning themselves to claim a first-ever berth in the Big Ten championship game with one win over the final two games of the regular season. And from start to finish, the 112,872 fans who found their way to the intersection of Melrose and Evashevski made their presence known. "I've never seen a better crowd,'' Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "It was the best we've had since I've been here. They were into it from that start.'' Many had been in into it much longer than that. Tailgate lots opened at 6 a.m. and Iowa wrestlers felt the warmth of the fan support as they knocked off the Cowboys. "It was a day I'll always remember,'' 125-pounder Thomas Gilman said. "To come out here in front of a crowd like that, cheering us on, being as crazy as they were, that was special.'' Football coach Kirk Ferentz caught onto that as well. "It was just an electric atmosphere,'' he said. "To be involved with this program for 26 years now (17 as the head coach), these are the things our players will remember their entire lives.'' Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith suggested that Iowa fans "raised the standard'' in his sport with the way they turned out under perfect mid-November weather conditions Saturday. Minnesota football coach Tracy Claeys simply referred to it as a "tough atmosphere.'' Which was exactly what Iowa officials hoped for when they announced the rare pairing of home events in sports that feature two of the school's most passionate fan bases. Even before the football team took the field, wrestling coach Tom Brands said the day exceeded his expectations. He wasn't looking at tea leaves, but things couldn't have worked out any better for Iowa and its fans. Two big-time, high-profile events. Two significant victories. It truly was a November day to remember at Kinnick Stadium, an experience shared by many that was typically Iowa and truly about as unique as it gets.
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Minnesota can do to put themselves in a position to win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium: MINNESOTA (4-5, 1-4) 1. Find room to run. History indicates that the team that controls the line and collects the most rushing yards has a chance to win this game. Moving the ball on the ground has been problematic this season for a Golden Gophers team that features two freshmen running backs working behind an offensive line that has been a patchwork operation throughout much of the season because of injuries. Only two starters, right tackle Jonah Pirsig and right guard Connor Mayes, have started all season and of a pile of injuries has led to inconsistent success on the ground. Minnesota averages 141.6 rushing yards per game, 13th in the Big Ten. Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith and true freshman Shannon Brooks share the top line on the tailback depth chart released by Minnesota on Thursday. The Georgia natives have started the Gophers' last eight games, but have been limited by minor injuries in practice this week. The pair combine to average 108.1 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is a capable runner as well and has averaged 16.1 yards per game, a number that compares to the 24.2 yards per game that C.J. Beathard has provided Iowa. 2. Deliver on defense. When Minnesota has had success this season, it has done so because of its ability on defense, holding seven opponents below their season scoring average. The Gophers are last in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 20.3 points per game, but have kept things close with an aggressive approach on defense that has shown in the two games since Tracy Claeys replaced Jerry Kill following his Oct. 27 retirement because of health issues. Minnesota had a season-high nine tackles for loss last week at Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes some issues early to hang within seven points before OSU secured a 28-14 win. Linebacker Jack Lynn and end Theiren Cockran have combined for 17 of the 59 tackles for a loss Minnesota has recorded this season. By comparison, Iowa has recorded 47 stops behind the line this season. The Gophers have forced opponents into an average of 4.67 three-and-outs per game, a number that ranks fifth in the Big Ten. 3. Corner the market on pass defense. Minnesota defense has benefited from the play of two of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten in seniors Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Depth in the secondary has been impacted with the loss of team interceptions leader Jalen Myrick to rib and lung injuries for the rest of the season, but Murray and Boddy-Calhoun have forced opponents to attack Minnesota through the air over the middle. The Gophers allow 177.4 passing yards per game, the 15th-lowest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Minnesota hasn't allowed a 300-yard passing day since its 2014 season opener against Eastern Illinois. 4. Put big legs to work. The Golden Gophers have two of the Big Ten's best special teams specialists in punter Peter Mortell and kicker Ryan Santoso. Mortell was honored as the punter of the year in the Big Ten last season and has continued to deliver. With a struggling offense, he has had plenty of opportunities. Of the 55 punts he has had, Mortell has placed 20 inside the opponent's 20-yard line and has drove the ball 50 or more yards on 17 occasions. He averages 43.7 yards per punt. Santoso ranks third in the Big Ten in field goal percentage, connecting on 14-of-18 attempts this season. His season long is 50 yards and like Iowa's Marshall Koehn, he has a game winner on his resume. Santoso's leg gave the Gophers a 23-20 overtime win at Colorado State in the second week of the season. IOWA (9-0, 5-0) 1. Establish the run. Bottom line -- the team that has rushed for more yards in this rivalry game has won nine times in the last 10 years. Iowa joins Ohio State as the only Big Ten teams to average more than 200 yards per game rushing this year and for the first time this season the Hawkeyes expect to have four healthy backs on the field for a game this year. Despite the absences of its top four running backs from at least one game this season -- leading rusher Jordan Canzeri is expected back Saturday -- Iowa averages 4.7 yards per carry on the season. LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley share the top line on the Iowa depth chart this week, while Canzeri joins Derrick Mitchell in sharing the second line. The work of Iowa's offensive line and its ability to control the line of scrimmage will again be essential against a physical Minnesota defensive front. 2. Patrol the perimeter. In running off 35 consecutive points on its way to a 35-7 halftime lead and an eventual 51-14 win over Iowa last season, the Gophers picked the Hawkeyes apart on the perimeter. The good news? Tight end Maxx Williams exited for the NFL a year early and the Hawkeyes have seemingly figured out how to defend the jet sweeps that led receiver K.J. Maye to carry 10 times for 66 yards against the Hawkeyes a year ago. Maye has rushed seven times this season, totaling 39 yards, and leads Minnesota with 49 catches totaling 524 yards. Iowa's ability to establish an edge and funnel plays toward the middle of the field, something the Hawkeyes have generally done a solid job with this season, will be a critical component to Iowa's chances for success Saturday night. 3. Be opportunistic. Desmond King now shares the Iowa single-season record for interceptions, picking off his eighth pass last weekend at Indiana to tie a long-standing record set by Nile Kinnick during his Heisman-winning 1939 season and matched by Lou King in 1981. Desmond King's work is illustrative of how Iowa has set an opportunistic tone this season with aggressive and smart defensive play. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten with a turnover margin of plus-11. Iowa has turned momentum with 20 takeaways this season, including 13 interceptions. By comparison, Minnesota has a minus-two turnover margin this year. That compares to a plus-10 margin last season which fueled an eight-win season that led the Gophers to their first New Year's Day bowl appearance since the Kennedy administration. 4. Seize the moment. In front of the first sellout crowd in 10 games since a loss to Iowa State last year, there is no shortage of things to play for Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, starting with a 98-pound pig. The iconic Floyd of Rosedale goes to the winner and rescuing it from another cold winter north of the border has been among Hawkeye priorities this week. Iowa will also be playing for the first-ever 10-0 start in the 126-year history of the sport in Iowa City and currently ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff poll, Iowa needs the win to remain alive in the hunt for a postseason playoff opportunity. The Hawkeyes also can move within one win over clinching the Big Ten West Division title with a win over Minnesota, but despite a two-game edge including tie breakers on second-place Wisconsin, Iowa cannot clinch anything this week with the Badgers on a bye week in their Big Ten schedule. Minnesota, which last won in Iowa City in 1999, has plenty to play for as well including holding onto the pig in consecutive years for the first time since winning back-to-back games in Minneapolis against Iowa in 2010 and 2011 by a combined four points The Gophers need wins in two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. Minnesota hosts Illinois and Wisconsin to complete its regular season.