The Jekyl and Hyde Hawkeyes were on full display Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
One full week after an embarrassing home loss to Central Michigan, the Hawkeyes bounced back in the Big Ten Conference opener against Minnesota and handed the Gophers their first loss of the season.
The Hawkeyes put together a nearly perfect first half by reaching into their bag of tricks and getting another big performance from Mark Weisman. Iowa also got a brilliant performance from its defense in the 31-13 victory.
“We played well in all three phases for the entire game, especially in the first half,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We clearly played better today, and that first half was the best 30 minutes we’ve played all season.”
Iowa (3-2) led 24-0 at halftime and completely dominated all phases of the game in the first half. The Hawkeyes out-gained Minnesota 328-75, had nine more first downs and got 155 rushing yards and a touchdown from Weisman.
But it was a trick play that everyone was talking about. With Weisman running effectively, Iowa Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis called the flea flicker, and the Hawkeyes executed it to perfection with James Vandenberg hooking up with Jordan Cotton for the 47-yard score.
“It felt like it was up there forever,” Cotton said of the pass from Vandenberg. “It might have been my adrenaline rush. I am just thankful I caught it.”
Ferentz said the last time he recalled Iowa running that play was 2001 when Brad Banks hit Dallas Clark for a big gain. Clark, however, did not score on the play.
“Dallas didn’t get the touchdown then so I guess Jordan is one up on him,” Ferentz said. “This was really the first time this year we played well together as a team throughout. When we do that, it is a good feeling for sure.”
With the win, the Hawkeyes reclaim the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy they have not had the past two seasons.
“You’d rather be on the winning side,” Ferentz said. “That is what the pig possesses. It means you won the game.”
And the race to get Floyd of Rosedale was won by two offensive lineman – senior James Ferentz and sophomore Brandon Scherff. Eventually the rest of the team caught up and a huge celebration followed on the Gophers’ sideline.
“There’s no better feeling right now than to say we were able to take back Floyd,” Iowa senior wide receiver Keenan Davis said. “Floyd will always be home now for us seniors.”
The 24-0 lead at halftime was highlighted by 21 points in the second quarter.
Mike Meyer’s 44-yard field goal in the first period made it 3-0 but then the Hawkeyes blew the game wide open following Weisman’s 8-yard TD run, Cotton’s catch on the flea flicker and a 1-yard QB sneak by Vandenberg.
“They played hard, played well, played physical and outplayed us,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We regrouped at halftime, but we couldn’t stop the bleeding in that second quarter. It’s a lesson to learn for this young team.”
The Hawkeyes couldn’t muster up much in the second half, but the damage had already been done in capturing a big win in a long-standing rivalry with Minnesota (4-1).
“We knew that one game wouldn’t make or break our season,” said Weisman of last week’s loss to Central Michigan. “We knew we still had the Big Ten season. We put last week behind us, had a good week of practice and played well.”
Weisman had 155 yards on 16 carries in the first half. He only carried it five more times in the second half and finished with 177 yards. However, he is the first Hawkeye running back to have more than 500 yards in the team’s first five games since Shonn Greene accomplished that feat back in 2008.
“When you do that once, you kind of think is it for real,” Ferentz said. “When you do it two times it becomes even more of a reality and to do it three times just tells me that his days at fullback are numbered. He can certainly play this position.”
The only points Iowa scored in the second half came on a 68-yard interception return by linebacker Christian Kirksey. He jumped the wide receiver on a short out route and then sprinted away from several Minnesota players on the return and then broke away from one Gopher tackler on his way to paydirt.
“It was cover 2,” Kirksey said. “He had a little five yard route. I played it hard and got the ball. But I wasn’t thinking TD on the play.”
The Iowa defense picked off Minnesota quarterback Max Shortell three times in the game. The Hawkeyes also sacked him twice and forced a fumble that also was recovered by Kirksey.
Iowa will not play next weekend but returns to action after its bye week to face Michigan State in East Lansing.
“You don’t want to go into a bye week with a loss or two straight losses as it would have been,” Ferentz said. “We have some things to work on so the bye week comes at a good time.”