brooks

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks (23) runs out of reach of Iowa defensive end Matt Nelson (96) during the Hawkeyes' 14-7 win last season in Minneapolis.

AP

Four things the football teams from Minnesota and Iowa can do to put themselves in a position to win in Saturday's 5:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium:

Minnesota (4-3, 1-3)

1. Establish the run

Minnesota has a stable full of horses. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are experienced, Big Ten-savvy running backs and junior college transfer Kobe McCrary demonstrated with a 153-yard effort last week on 24 carries against Illinois that he belongs in the mix as well.

They lead a Golden Gophers ground game which averages 188 yards per game. Only Ohio State and Wisconsin -- Iowa's next two opponents coincidentally -- average more rushing yards per game than Minnesota does.

Josey Jewell led Iowa in limiting Minnesota to 102 yards on the ground last year in the Hawkeyes' 14-7 win at Minneapolis. The Gophers' ability to avoid a repeat performance of those struggles will dictate how much of a chance Minnesota has to pick up the pig this week.

2. Play an 11-man game

Production from the quarterback position has been a season-long issue. First-year coach P.J. Fleck made a move at the position last week, replacing senior starter Conor Rhoda with sophomore Demry Croft behind center for the Illinois game.

Croft, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder who prepped at Rockford Boylan, brings more of a running threat to the position. He ran for 32 yards on 11 rushes against the Illini and has averaged 6.7 yards per carry this season.

He did not bring much accuracy in his debut. Seven of the 15 passes Croft attempted lats week against Illinois were caught -- five by Minnesota receivers and two by Illini defenders.

Iowa defenders see some opportunity there to increase the Hawkeyes' takeaway numbers. Croft's ability to turn those mistakes into meaningful production will be big for Minnesota.

3. Be special on special teams

The Golden Gophers have a pair of veterans handling kicking and punting duties, something that could create an edge.

Junior Emmit Carpenter was named the Big Ten kicker of the year last season when he hit 22-of-24 field goal attempts. He missed his first two tries this fall, but has hit 10 of his last 12 and has connected on 5-of-7 tries from beyond 40 yards.

Punter Ryan Santoso is a senior who is in the midst of his best season for the Golden Gophers. He has a career average of 42 yards, but is currently leading the Big Ten with an average of 45 yards on 32 punts.

4. Grow up quickly

Minnesota is a young football team that played like a young football team in its only previous Big Ten road test, losing a 31-17 game at Purdue, when the Boilermakers surged late to pull away to the win.

Of the 110 players on the Minnesota roster, 49 are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That's created some depth issues throughout the team, most notably on the offensive line where the Gophers will match the number of freshmen that Iowa starts up front with two first-year players on the field.

Redshirt freshmen Conner Olson and Sam Schlueter are expected to open at right guard and right tackle for an offensive front which has used five starting combinations through seven games. They are among 15 freshmen -- true freshmen and redshirts -- that have worked their way onto the Minnesota depth chart this week.

Iowa (4-3, 1-3)

1. Establish the run, seriously

Expect Iowa to continue to try to work to gain traction in its running game. A season-long issue, the Hawkeyes remain about a yard shy of their objective with an average of 3.5 yards per carry but growing that number remains something Iowa hopes to accomplish.

Minnesota is ninth in the Big Ten in stopping the run through four league games, allowing 190 yards per game.

The Golden Gophers 4-3 alignment is anchored by one of the Big Ten's top defensive tackles in Steven Richardson, a player Iowa center James Daniels said on Tuesday was the most challenging opponent he had to deal with a year ago.

With two freshmen on the offensive line replacing two injured seniors, it's unrealistic think Iowa will suddenly become a dominant running team. But, the Hawkeyes need to become efficient enough to gain needed yards and work the clock on their terms.

2. Attack the back

Minnesota's secondary has dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season and like Iowa, lineup changes in the defensive backfield have been frequent.

Working against a defense that has allowed Big Ten opponents to complete 66 percent of their passes, that should provide some opportunities for Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.

The sophomore will likely find himself with some possibilities on the edge as he works to improve his season completion rate of 57.7 percent.

He'll be working against a defense that has allowed 183.1 yards per game through the air.

3. Don't bend, don't break

Iowa's defense has been stingy, fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed at 18.4 per game.

The Hawkeyes have surrendered some yards and critical breakdowns on third-down plays led to scores by Northwestern last week that handed Iowa its third Big Ten loss in four games in a 17-10 overtime decision.

There isn't a lot of mystery about what Minnesota will attempt to do. Among Big Ten teams, only Wisconsin has rushed the ball more than the 316 times the Golden Gophers have ran it this season.

Iowa's defense has allowed 4.3 yards per carry, a number that ranks 10th in the Big Ten in rush defense. Against Minnesota, that number won't add up to success for the Hawkeyes.

4. Become a finished product

Iowa went to Northwestern looking for faster starts. The Hawkeyes accomplished that, gaining 128 yards in the first quarter.

What Iowa didn't do was finish those early drives, held without a point after drives of 47 and 71 yards.

That's been a season-long issue for the Hawkeyes, who rank 121st in the Football Bowl Subdivision with their collection of 21 first-quarter points this season.

Finishing tone-setting drives, particularly early in games whether it be with a touchdown or a field goal, becomes the next objective a young Hawkeye offense is chasing.

Minnesota didn't exactly tear things up in their only previous Big Ten road test and early success could position Iowa to retain possession of Floyd of Rosedale for a third straight year.

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