Dec. 26, 2009
Series: Minnesota leads 22-2-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 13, 1997: Minnesota 53, Iowa State 29
Minnesota returns to the Insight Bowl for the second straight season and the third time in four years. The Gophers will battle Iowa State for the first time since 1997 and just the third occasion since 1924, although the two programs have met in 25 contests overall. Minnesota holds a 22-2-1 advantage in the all-time series and has not lost to the Cyclones since 1898. The Gophers will be looking for their first Insight Bowl victory, after falling in overtime to Texas Tech in 2006 and to Kansas last season. In his third year as the head coach, Tim Brewster has led the program to back-to-back bowl games and the 14th postseason appearance in school history. The Gophers are 5-8 overall in postseason play, including triumphs in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Big Ten teams are 2-3 in this game, including victories by Indiana (1991) and Wisconsin (1996) when the game was known as the Copper Bowl.
Iowa State is set to play in its first postseason bowl game in four years and is simply happy to be back in bowl contention after being one year removed from a 10-loss season. What helped the Cyclones and their 6-6 record with bowl representatives had to have been a 9-7 win at Nebraska – the Big 12 North champion and near-upset winner over Texas in the conference title game. Iowa State last played in a bowl game in 2005 when it lost to TCU in the Houston Bowl. Paul Rhoads is the first ISU rookie head coach to win six games since Charles Mayser in 1915.
By no means is the Minnesota offense a one-man show, but the loss of wideout Eric Decker to season-ending foot injury clearly took its toll on the Golden Gophers this year. Decker, a first-team All-Big Ten selection and the school’s all-time leading receiver, missed the last four games of the season and was forced to watch the Gophers struggle on offense. Minnesota finished ninth in the conference in passing (198.2) and last in scoring (21.6), rushing (97.6) and total offense (295.8). Decker seemed to be Mr. Reliable for the Gophers so one could assume that his absence created more stress for quarterback Adam Weber. This season Weber’s numbers fell across the board, completing just 51.6 of his 335 attempts and boasting a 113.30 efficiency rating that was last in the league. Additionally, Weber threw 14 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns on the year. With Decker on the sidelines, Weber has been passing by committee with the leading receivers being Nick Tow-Arnett (38.2), Troy Stoudermire (22.8) and Brandon Green (26.6). Tailback Duane Bennett has been asked to assist as well, turning in 31.3 yards on the ground and 15.1 yards in the air each time out. In the past two games, a 16-13 win over South Dakota State and a 12-0 shutout loss to Iowa, Minnesota’s offense has not found the end zone. In the SDSU victory, the defense recovered a fumble and returned it 3 yards for a score and Eric Ellestad kicked three field goals. But what might help the Gophers’ offense the most is an ISU defense that has struggled all season long.
Defensively, Iowa State is allowing 22.6 points, 169.3 rushing, 245.0 passing and 414.3 total yards per game. Each of those marks rank near the bottom of the Big 12 as the Cyclones rank ninth against the pass and 11th in scoring, rushing and total yards. ISU is also 11th in the pass defense efficiency with a 135.5 rating, and despite picking off 14 passes this year, the Cyclones allowed 22 passing touchdowns, which was the second-most in the league. There are some bright spots on the Cyclone’s defense, primarily with senior linebacker Jesse Smith, who led the conference with 10.7 tackles per game this year. Additionally, James Smith (7.3) rank seventh and Fred Garrin (7.2) was ninth. David Sims leads the secondary with four interceptions in 2009.
Perhaps the single team stat that stands out the most between the two squads will ultimately have an effect on Weber’s passing game: Sacks. Minnesota allowed a Big Ten-high 39 sacks on the season, while Iowa State sacked the opposition a Big 12-low 14 times.
Iowa State also faced its fair amount of struggles on offense this season. The Cyclones were 11th in the Big 12 in scoring (21.1) and eighth in total offense (376.3). ISU runs the ball whenever it can, ranking fourth in the Big 12 this season with 177.3 rushing yards per game. Alexander Robinson ran for 1,058 yards in 2009 despite being nagged with a sore groin injury that actually kept him out of the upset win at Nebraska. Robinson turned in 96.2 rushing yards per game, but only found the end zone six times this season. In his last three games, Robinson has run for 245 yards. QB Austen Arnaud joined Robinson on the sideline during the Nebraska game with an injured throwing hand and has since struggled in his return. Prior to his injury he threw one interception in five games, but has thrown six in his last three and 11 on the year. Despite the inconsistency, Arnaud is a dual-threat behind center. He has amounted 1799 passing yards and 485 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. In the air, look for senior Marquis Hamilton to be the primary target. He averaged 47.8 yards per game and has hauled in 46 catches and four scores this year. Former walk-on Jake Williams has 30 catches for 320 yards and four scores, including the game-winner against Nebraska. The Cyclones’ offensive line has been superb in protecting Arnaud this season, giving up just 14 sacks, which ranked second in the Big 12.
Minnesota’s defense allowed 24.6 points and 364.2 total yards each time out. The Gophers will need to strengthen its attack against the run as they gave up 18 touchdowns on the ground this year and an average of 146.7 yards each time out. Minnesota did however allow just 100 rushing yards on 63 attempts in the last two games. The Gophers were fifth against the pass in the Big Ten at 217.6 yards per game. Lee Campbell ranked third in the conference with 9.3 stops per outing, while teammate Nate Triplett was ninth at 7.9. Senior Cedric McKinley forced a pair of fumbles on the year and paced the conference with three recoveries. Marcus Sherels led the secondary with seven pass break-ups and two picks this season.