Iowa falters late against Minnesota, 27-24


Brenna Norman/The Daily Iowan
Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt takes a tumble after a missed pass from quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the first half.
Brenna Norman/The Daily Iowan
Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the first half.
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MINNEAPOLIS — In a season full of disappointments, this one might take the cake.

No. 24 Iowa lost to Minnesota (3-9, 2-6 Big Ten) on Nov. 27, 27-24, in TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes, who were once ranked in the top 10 and seemed destined for a BCS bowl, dropped their third-consecutive game and finished the regular season 7-5.

“It has probably been a little different story each and every week,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But the bottom line is we didn’t finish well in November — that’s for sure.”

All of Iowa’s perennial weaknesses in 2010 — special teams, late-game defense, inopportune mistakes, offensive execution in the fourth quarter — manifested themselves in the chilly Minnesota air.

The Hawkeyes allowed the Gophers to convert a surprise onside kick, which led to a touchdown. They fumbled away a quarterback-center exchange, which led to a touchdown. They committed a roughing the passer penalty, which led to a touchdown. And bumbled a defensive substitution on fourth down didn’t lead to a touchdown, but it lost them 25 yards in field position.

Indeed, the mistakes were plentiful against the Gophers, but perhaps none was more important than running back Marcus Coker’s fourth-quarter fumble one play after Minnesota gained a 27-24 advantage with 4:31 remaining.

The true freshman was playing in place of Adam Robinson, who was sidelined with his second concussion of the season.

“There are just a lot of things we need to fix right now,” quarterback Ricky Stanzi said.

The Gophers held a double-digit lead before Iowa even touched the ball.

They scored 10 points on nearly identical 11-play, 58-yard drives, with the onside kick sandwiched between the two. Minnesota rushed for 74 yards in the first quarter against the nation’s sixth-best run defense, and before the game was over, the Hawkeyes had given up a season-high 216 yards on the ground.

Four different players contributed to the Gophers’ dominance on the ground. DeLeon Eskridge led the team with 95 yards, and Duane Bennett (63), MarQueis Gray (39), and even quarterback Adam Weber (23) also presented challenges for the Hawkeyes’ defense.

“When you’re doing that, it’s tough to win games,” Ferentz said about the run defense. “That’s one of the things we’ve attempted to build around — the fact that we’re going to try to make it tough to run on our football team. And today, they pretty much ran at will.”

Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos kept Iowa in the game early. His seven-yard touchdown reception at the beginning of the second quarter pulled Iowa within three, and his effortless 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown sparked a Hawkeye team that had looked flat from the beginning.

The spark, though, was only temporary. Iowa held a 24-20 lead with 7:36 remaining in the game, and Minnesota marched 77 yards in six plays and scored the game-winning touchdown — a 6-yard run from Bennett — with 4:31 remaining.

Much like the Hawkeyes’ previous four losses, the Iowa offense failed to answer; Coker fumbled away the ball on Iowa’s 45-yard line.

When asked if something with this team was missing, defensive end Adrian Clayborn said, “A will to win, I guess.”

As the time ran out and students blitzed down the metal bleachers to storm the field, Iowa players stood on the sideline, in shock of what had become of their season.

In his postgame interview session, defensive tackle Karl Klug stared at the ground. He shook his head when asked if something was broken with this team. A senior, Klug tried to explain the inexplicable — how a season that started with such promise and a team headed by such venerable leaders could just collapse.

“I feel like we’ve got the right guys here,” he said. “It’s just, I don’t know …”

He didn’t have the answers. No one did, really.

The Hawkeyes — a team that once beat fifth-ranked and eventual co-Big Ten champion Michigan State team by 31 points — left TCF Bank Stadium with a heartbreaking defeat to lowly Minnesota.

It was another close loss in a season defined by unrealized hype and unspectacular late-game performances.

“When you lose three games, you’re looking for answers,” Ferentz said. “When you lose one game, you’re looking for answers. Apparently, we haven’t found them.”

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