Gophers Upset Iowa 22-21, Keep Pig Another Year
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) — Minnesota's move back to campus from the Metrodome to a state-of-the-art open-air stadium was widely cheered by Gophers fans as well as football followers all around the Big Ten.
This isn't working out so well for Iowa.
MarQueis Gray's fourth-down sprint for the pylon from the 2-yard line in the closing minutes lifted Minnesota to a 22-21 victory Saturday over the Hawkeyes, giving the Gophers possession of the Floyd of Rosedale bronze pig trophy for the second straight year.
Marcus Coker carried the ball 32 times through several huge holes for a career-high 252 yards and two touchdowns, but Iowa (5-3, 2-2) missed a chance to move into a four-way tie for first place in the Legends Division with a rough November schedule ahead.
Coker wasn't much interested in breaking down his performance afterward.
"I don't care if I get 30 yards, 30 carries," he said. "As long as we're not winning, I don't care."
Gray went 11 for 17 for 193 yards and a touchdown passing, by far his best game of the season throwing the ball. He also ran 11 times for 62 yards and the go-ahead score for the Gophers (2-6, 1-3), who lost their first three Big Ten games by an average margin of 38 points. Minnesota students stormed the field in celebration and surrounded the players afterward.
Iowa beat Minnesota 55-0 in 2008, the Gophers' last game at the Metrodome, but the Hawkeyes haven't enjoyed TCF Bank Stadium. They lost 27-24 here last year to a team that finished 3-9. Coach Kirk Ferentz was at least more pleased by the effort this time, but the result was the same.
The Hawkeyes had six trips inside the Minnesota 20, and on three of those possessions they didn't score.
"If you don't finish drives and get points, that'll come back and get you," Ferentz said.
James Vandenberg went 16 for 24 for 177 yards and a touchdown to Marvin McNutt, who caught seven of those passes for 101 yards. Mike Meyer missed two field goals for Iowa in the first half, one from 24 yards and another from 43 that bounced off the upright.
"Hopefully we can just watch the film and get better for next week," Meyer said.
Meyer, who was named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation's top kicker, was 12 for 14 coming into the game. His only previous misses were from 40 and 50 yards.
With the Gophers trailing 21-10, Gray sneaked for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 42 and Duane Bennett capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 8:22 left.
Then the Gophers caught Iowa playing almost 15 yards back on the kickoff, and Kim Royston — who had a game-high 16 tackles — recovered the onside attempt on a play they've practiced all season but had yet to use. Royston used a pair of double-teams in front of him for a wall in front of the ball.
"I didn't think it was a time in the game to throw our hands team out there, but not totally surprising. Great execution on their part. Outstanding. Excellent call," Ferentz said.
Then Gray moved the Gophers in position to win, and on fourth-and-goal at the 2 he ran to his right to scrape the edge of the end zone with 2:48 remaining for Minnesota's first lead of the entire month. Iowa has been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks this season, and Gray was no exception.
Vandenberg was out of sync when Iowa got the ball back with the crowd at its loudest, and after three straight incompletions he escaped a sack but was well short of the first down on his scramble, giving the Gophers consecutive victories over Iowa for the first time since 1999 and 2000.
McNutt, the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week, wasn't targeted on that last drive.
"It was really more of a miscommunication. I might've messed up the last play. There is no finger-pointing. Right now we just need to get this behind us," he said.
Vandenberg has yet to win on the road as Iowa's starter.
"They did a real good job of taking away Marvin," he said. "They were going to make other people make plays, and we need to do a better job of stepping up offensively and making plays."
Minnesota was 118th out of 120 teams in the nation in sacks entering the game, but the Gophers took down Vandenberg three times — giving them eight for the season to match last year's paltry total.
Though they took an 11-point lead in the third quarter, the Hawkeyes were in dangerous territory as they headed for the locker room at halftime with the game tied at 7. The Gophers were outscored 103-3 in the first half over their first seven games.
Sure enough, they came back and kept Iowa's trophy case empty. The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State earlier this year and to Wisconsin last season.
That made Gophers defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey happy. He sent his uncle, Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey, a picture of the pig earlier in the week: "I told him if he wants it, he's got to come get it," Kirksey said.
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