Wed, Dec 11, 2019

There’s one less undefeated team in the country after No. 20 Iowa beat No. 8 Minnesota 23-19 on Saturday in Iowa City, handing the Gophers their first loss of the season and earning the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in the process. The loss was not only Minnesota’s first in 2019 but the first time the Gophers have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard since a 24-14 loss to Northwestern last season, ending an 11-game win streak.

Looking at the box score, it might be difficult to understand how Minnesota lost this game. Iowa finished the day with 290 yards of offense, which was 141 yards less than Minnesota’s 431, but special teams killed the Gophers. Freshman kicker Brock Walker missed a field goal as well as an extra point, and those four points loomed rather large in a four-point game.

Still, while it wasn’t an explosive performance, it was a typical one for the Hawkeyes. They don’t always look pretty, but they do enough to win. Nate Stanley finished with only 173 yards passing, but had two touchdown passes and used his legs to help extend a field goal drive in the fourth quarter that ended up being the difference. The other major factor for the Hawkeyes was its defense, which showed up in a big way, even if Minnesota was able to rack up some yardage.

Iowa’s pass rush had been a problem coming into the game. As good as the Iowa defense had been overall, the Hawkeyes had only 18 sacks in their first nine games. That ranked 79th nationally. On Saturday against Minnesota, Iowa tacked another six sacks onto that total, with stud defensive end A.J. Epenesa leading the way. Epenesa was responsible for 2.5 of the sacks, including one on Minnesota’s final possession that put the Gophers in a third-and-21 situation they had no hope of converting.

So what does this all mean for the Big Ten West race? Well, it’s pretty simple, but it could get complicated as well. Let’s try to break it down.

While this loss puts a serious dent in Minnesota’s national title hopes, it’s still in first place in the division. If it wins out, it’s going to Indianapolis. It can even lose another game, but it depends on who the loss comes against. For instance, if Minnesota beats Northwestern next week, but loses to Wisconsin in the regular-season finale, the Badgers would have the tiebreaker assuming they beat Purdue. Minnesota can even lose to Northwestern next week so long as it beats Wisconsin. So, for the Gophers, it’s pretty simple: win your remaining games, or at the very least, beat Wisconsin.

It’s also simple for Wisconsin. If the Badgers win their final two games, they’ll win the division because they’d be 7-2 in the Big Ten, and with one of those wins coming against Minnesota, the Gophers would be 7-2 at best as well, with Wisconsin holding the head to head tiebreaker.

Now, if Wisconsin loses to Purdue next week, things get a bit more interesting. They’d need Minnesota to lose to Northwestern as well. If Wisconsin loses another game, it’s eliminated if Minnesota wins any game.

As for Iowa and Illinois, while both are still “alive” mathematically because of the Big Ten’s tiebreaker rules, neither would win the necessary tiebreakers in the event of a three-way tie. Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska on Saturday crushed what little chance each had.

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