Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Home Team has won three straight in the Battle of Floyd of Rosedale

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Iowa Hawkeyes (3-1) will be playing its second road game and rivalry contest in three games on Saturday when the team looks to defend Floyd of Rosedale against Minnesota (4-0) on its Homecoming.

It is the Big Ten opener for each team, as it was last year, in Iowa City, when Iowa won 31-13.

The home team has won three straight in this series, with Iowa winning nine out of the last 12 over Minnesota. Iowa has never won outdoors in TCF Bank Stadium, losing two games by a combined total of four points (2010, 2011). Iowa last won in Minneapolis in 2008, in the final game in the Metrodome for the Golden Gophers (55-0).

First-year Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said Friday afternoon that the receivers have been upbeat and ready to go after winning their last three games. Iowa lost season opener on a costly interception by first year starting sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock, and a last minute field goal to lose by three vs. Northern Illinois, where Jerry Kill coached prior to moving to Minnesota in 2011.

"The mood around the team has been extremely positive this week," said Kennedy. "They're excited to be here in Minneapolis because it's the start of Big Ten play and tomorrow is another trophy game that holds a significant meaning."

After playing in front of a sold out crowd at Iowa State two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes will face another boisterous crowd on Saturday at a sold out TCF Bank Stadium. Kennedy said the team prepared for the anticipated crowd noise at practice.

"We practiced with crowd noise and loud music during the week, so our guys really had to focus," Kennedy said. "They handled it well."

Iowa's passing offense has made strides the last couple games and will face the Big Ten's ninth-ranked team in passing defense tomorrow -- the Golden Gophers have allowed 270 yards per game through the air this season. Kennedy has seen improvement in the Hawkeye receivers.

"I'm pleased with progress, but we're not a finished product," said Kennedy. "We have to keep improving every week. The great thing about (our receivers) is that they want to be good, so they work extremely hard in practice. They're moving in that direction."

Leading the Hawkeye receiving corps is junior Kevonte Martin-Manley, who ranks fifth in the league in receptions (5.0 per game). Kennedy likes the leadership qualities the Hawkeye junior is instilling in his teammates.

"His work ethic is infectious on his teammates," Kennedy said. "They see that he works so hard and what I always tell Kevonte is that is the only way he can work. He has good ability, but he's maximizing his ability. The other guys get their cue from him and they're moving forward."

Martin-Manley appears to mirror head coach Kirk Ferentz on the field. A business-like mind set for KMM, whether as a receiver or on special teams.

The motto for the receiving corp heading into the Big Ten opener:

"Go out and play hard. We have to be aggressive and get after them," said Kennedy.

The chatter out of Minneapolis this week with the Minnesota Golden Gophers is 'hate' and the rivalry, playing for Floyd of Rosedale. The pig became a trophy to reduce the hate driven by Minnesota in the 1930s, so it seems ironic to hear it today, again from the Golden Gophers. 

Look for a physical game found in the trenches, whether it was during the series in the 1980s when Iowa coach was an offensive line coach for Iowa or today, as the two teams walk out on the TCF Bank field.

A key in the Iowa-Minnesota game on Saturday?

Success on third down, either on defense or offense, can often go a long way in determining the outcome in college football. Iowa football defensive coordinator Phil Parker knows the importance of the Hawkeye defense getting off the field on third down.

Part of that success depends on what happens on first and second down. The Hawkeye offense is converting 52% (34-66) of its third down opportunities, and is 1-3 on fourth down. Many of those 66 opportunities have been short yardage situations, which add to the chances of converting those opportunities.

In addition to its third down success, Iowa's average time of possession is 35:48 per game through four outings. That figures ranks first in the Big Ten and third in the nation. Iowa's third down conversion percentage is third in the league and ranks 20th nationally.

The Hawkeye defense has performed well on third down in the four non-conference games. Hawkeye opponents are converting just 24.1 percent of third down opportunities, a figure that ranks third in the Big Ten and eighth in the nation. Parker knows the down and distance plays a big part in that success by his Hawkeye defense.

"That helps our defense a lot, it keeps us off the field a little," said Parker. "Time of possession is big; you don't have to run as many plays. Once again, it comes down to preparation and execution and it's what our kids have done in all areas, offense, defense and special teams."

The Iowa defense has come up with a number of turnovers in four games, collecting six interceptions and three fumbles. In Iowa's most recent win over Western Michigan, senior cornerbacks B.J. Lowery returned two interceptions for touchdowns and WR  Martin-Manley had two touchdowns on punt returns.

"I think a lot of it comes from the preparation during the week," said Parker, following Iowa's Thursday practice. "We spend a little more time on third down preparation, and the guys are starting to get a better understanding of what you have to do on third down. Obviously, if you get them in third and long it is better, you have a better opportunity. We've been doing a better job on first and second down, and we're trying to be aggressive with it."

Parker is pleased with the overall play of the defense through four games, and says every down is important to being a good defense.

"I think what we are doing is playing a lot of base defense on first and second down," said Parker. "We try to keep them to three yards or less on first down, make it second and eight, third and eight. That gives us an advantage. The last couple of games we have been forcing third and five, third and six. It gives us an opportunity, but it still comes down to execution and preparation, and our kids are doing a good job right now."

Minnesota, Saturday's opponent, has also dominated time of possession at just under 33 minutes per game. The Golden Gophers average 282.2 rushing yards per game and rank fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at over 41 points per game.

"Obviously you need turnovers, get a possession back for the offense," said Parker. "That's what we're doing, getting stops on third down, getting three and outs, or getting a turnover to set up the offense. That's our job, to get the ball back, that's what we do."

Minnesota enters the game with a perfect 4-0 record and Parker has been impressed with what he has seen of the Golden Gophers.

"They are very good up front, a good offensive line with excellent running backs," said Parker. "Either of the two quarterbacks can run the ball. They have receivers who are tough, hard nose kids, who can catch the deep ball on play action. It's a great challenge for us, they are very talented."

The game has three major phases, and each team will work to win the battle on offense, on defense and on special teams. Iowa put all three phases together in the 59-3 win over Western Michigan (0-4). However, unlike WMU, the Golden Goohers are completing games.

Iowa and the Golden Gophers kick off at 2:36 p.m. Saturday in Minneapolis in the annual battle for Floyd of Rosedale. ABC will televise the game to a majority of the nation, while all other sections of the nation can view the contest on ESPN2.

This is the oldest rivalry for the Hawkeyes, as the two foes meet for the 107th time in the series.

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