MINNEAPOLIS – Before his team took the field Saturday to face Iowa, Jerry Kill told anybody who would listen that the Hawkeyes were an improved football team.
Saturday, Iowa proved his point and Kill believes the decisions being made by quarterback Jake Rudock have plenty to do with that.
“He’s a more mobile quarterback than the one we faced (James Vandenberg) a year ago,’’ Kill said. “They had a good quarterback last year, but Rudock plays the game differently. He makes a lot of calls on the line of scrimmage and I credit him and their coach for putting that team in the right position to win.’’
Statistically, Rudock had his roughest start of the five he has made for Iowa against the Golden Gophers. The sophomore completed 15-of-25 passes for 218 yards and had a fourth-quarter pass picked off in the end zone by Minnesota’s Brock Vereen.
“He still did a lot of things well for us, a lot of it subtle but it is making a difference for our team,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Making a play
Fullback Adam Cox helped set up a Iowa’s first touchdown, taking a screen pass from Rudock 35 yards to move the ball downfield to extend a drive which ended with Rudock scoring on a 4-yard run with 8 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first half as the Hawkeyes opened a 10-0 lead.
“It felt good to be in a position to make something happen,’’ Cox said. “Every game, it takes plays like that to make a difference especially when you get into the Big Ten. It was a way for us to move the ball.’’
The catch was the second of the season for Cox, who previously had a five-yard reception.
“That was a huge play for him and for us,’’ Ferentz said.
The decision to start Philip Nelson at quarterback was a game-time decision by Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and it came with plenty of input from the sophomore who missed the Gophers’ final nonconference game with a hamstring injury.
“When he’s good to go, we’re going to play him,’’ Kill said “He practiced all week and a had lots of reps, so it wasn’t as if he came in cold. The game didn’t dictate that we bring Mitch (Leidner, the back-up) in because we couldn’t run the ball. I don’t think switching quarterbacks would have changed much of our play.’’
Nelson said he didn’t feel rusty, although he completed just 12-of-24 passes and threw two interceptions.
He said Iowa’s defense had plenty to do with why he was sacked four times.
“I made a couple of mistakes when we were rolling, but they did a good job of covering everything up when they had somebody coming at me,’’ Nelson said. “At that point, I’ve just got to try to get back to 2nd-and-10 or just throw it away.’’
Mark Weisman led Iowa’s rushing attack with 147 yards on 24 carries, the fourth time this season the junior has topped the 100-yard mark.
“The line did an incredible job of opening holes,’’ Weisman said. “They had a big challenge on their hands today and they met it.’’
Weisman’s work helped the Hawkeyes pass the 200-yard rushing mark for the fifth straight game. Iowa finished with 246 yards on 45 carries and while Minnesota finished with five tackles for a loss, raising its season total to 35, the Golden Gophers did not sack Rudock once.
Senior Kyle Meyer put Iowa on the board with a 49-yard field goal into a westerly wind Saturday, the start of a 3-for-4 game for the kicker who continued his assault on the Hawkeye record book.
“We were able to come out and help the team,’’ Meyer said. “We got to back it up a bit today, but that’s part of the game. It doesn’t really change my mindset at all. It’s all about putting the right target on the kick.’’
Meyer, who also hit from 23 and 46 yards in the second half after rattling a 39-yard attempt off the left upright in the second quarter, moved into third place on the Hawkeye career scoring and field goal charts with his work Saturday.
With 11 points, Meyer now has 278 career points and sits one point ahead of Tom Nichol. His three field goals gives him 53, two ahead of Kyle Schlicher.
His first kick equaled the third-longest of Meyer’s career. He has hit from 50 yards twice previously, most recently in the Hawkeyes’ win over Northern Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sept. 1, 2012.
A bitter taste
Kill took responsibility for his team’s struggles against Iowa, saying that the Gophers’ youth showed as much as anything against the Hawkeyes.
“This game needs to leave a bad taste in our mouths,’’ Kill said. “We have to wake up tomorrow and go back to work. We all need to be accountable and we can’t point fingers.’’
Iowa has now won its Big Ten opener four times in the last five seasons, including wins over Minnesota in each of the past two seasons.
The Hawkeyes have now won the battle for Floyd of Rosedale 10 times in the last 13 years.
Thanks to the ever-changing Big Ten schedule, Iowa returns to TCF Bank Stadium for the fourth time in five seasons next year.
While Saturday’s game marked the second time in 107 meetings that the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers have played in September, next year’s game returns to a more traditional slot on the schedule. Iowa visits Minne