The defining moment of the Gophers’ 35-7 loss to Iowa on Friday came with 19 seconds to go. But it wasn’t a Hail Mary touchdown or a game-saving interception.
No, it was a quartet of timeouts that illustrated just how petty this border rivalry has become.
See, the Gophers trailed 35-0 at TCF Bank Stadium, still cemented to the starting line with the Hawkeyes but a speck in the distance. Their most recent shutout, a 2017 drop to fellow rival Wisconsin, seemed to loom over Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who was desperate not to relive such a fate — especially against the one Big Ten West team he has yet to beat. So he called a timeout, hoping to set up a face-saving score from Iowa’s 4.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz must have taken some offense at that — running back Tyler Goodson even called out the Gophers for “playing games” — and proceeded to cycle through three consecutive timeouts in an instantly iconic display of Midwestern passive-aggressiveness.
“They called a timeout, I guess to look at what we’re doing and reconsider. So we just kind of wanted to make sure we got a good look at what they were doing,” Ferentz said. “ … Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”
While the Gophers did eventually score that final touchdown on a Rashod Bateman catch, it was far, far too late to relocate the Floyd of Rosedale trophy from Iowa’s weight room, where it has remained since 2015, marking Iowa’s longest streak in the 114-game history.
In fact, this was the Gophers’ worst loss to Iowa since a 55-0 bashing at the Metrodome in 2008.
“We didn’t deserve to bring [the pig] back here, didn’t play well enough to get it,” Fleck said. “This is another scar. And scars remind us of where we’ve been to get to where we want to go.”
There’s certainly many marks on the Gophers after this game, ones that aren’t likely to fade any time soon — though the Gophers’ offense very much has. It led a high-scoring 11-2 team last year and returned all but two starters but managed just 312 yards against Iowa, mainly from two guys. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim ran the ball 33 times for 144 yards but never more than 13 yards on a carry. Bateman managed 111 yards on eight catches.
The Gophers’ game plan seemed stubbornly focused on predictably feeding those two players, despite Iowa’s tough rush defense and quarterback Tanner Morgan’s off night. Morgan, sacked four times, went 16-for-33 for 167 yards and two interceptions, plus the last-ditch touchdown to Bateman.
Twice the Gophers trekked within striking distance of Iowa’s end zone, only to have all the hard work undone. One drive in the third quarter went 74 yards on 17 plays and ate up nearly 11 minutes, but it ended when Iowa’s Jack Koerner got a hand on Brock Walker’s missed 39-yard field goal try. The very next drive ended in a Morgan interception.
Iowa scored 14 points off his turnovers.
“We just have to continue to play better as a team, and again, that starts with me right here,” Morgan said. “And I most certainly will do that.”
The Gophers defense gave Iowa 346 yards, including 235 on the ground, where the majority of their touchdowns manifested. Goodson had two himself, among his 20 carries for 142 yards.
The Gophers tried to put up a fight in the beginning, even intercepting Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras, but left gaping holes toward the end when Iowa had no qualms about running up the score.
A James Gordon IV interception for the Gophers actually ended up adding to Iowa’s momentum. Linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin took a 15-yard penalty for a blindside block, with Fleck following with his own 15-yard call for unsportsmanlike conduct, something the coach said he still didn’t fully understand.
Sori-Marin later would wind up being ejected for targeting.
The Gophers ended with eight penalties for 85 yards.
“That’s uncharacteristic of us. A lot of things that we did tonight are uncharacteristic of our football team,” Fleck said. “ … We have an identity, and we know who we are, and we win games a certain way. And tonight, we were basically the complete opposite of that.”
That inconsistency might have been unusual, but the way the Gophers and Iowa ended the game was right on brand.
“We just want to finish the game, regardless,” Ibrahim said. “So I don’t really know why they called three timeouts. I don’t know if it was disrespect or anything like that.
“But we were going to finish the game.”
Too bad it was already done well before that.