Y2K glitch: Gophers winless at Iowa since 1999
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the Gophers visit Iowa City on Saturday, they want to party like it's 1999. Because, as Prince sang, "Say, say, two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time."
Since Y2K, the Gophers are 0-7 against the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. While Minnesota is 5-5 versus Iowa in Minneapolis since then, the 18-year drought down south includes of the Gophers' worst moments: giving up 40 or more points four times, being shut out once and having only two games as close as a touchdown.
To win 25-21 in 1999, the Gophers needed 15 unanswered second-half points, including a long Arland Bruce touchdown run and a pass breakup in the end zone in the final seconds. And it was against a Hawkeyes team that finished 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten — their worst record in 26 years.
Minnesota's last win at Iowa capped an undefeated 4-0 road record in the Big Ten — a first since 1904. None of the road victories were bigger, however, than Dan Nystrom's game-winning field goal to knock off No. 2 Penn State in Happy Valley two weeks earlier.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes enter Saturday's battle for Floyd of Rosedale at Kinnick Stadium with the same record — 4-3, 1-3 Big Ten — and fewer implications for the Big Ten race, but the match-up begins a new chapter as P.J. Fleck coaches in his first rivalry game at Minnesota.
The last time the Gophers won in Iowa City, Fleck was a freshman wide receiver at Northern Illinois, which was shut out by the Hawkeyes that September. Now in his 19th season, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in major college football. Fleck, 36, is its second youngest.
Fleck knew of Big Ten rivalries growing up an hour outside of Chicago, but he got a better sense of their importance to Gophers fans "the day I got hired," he said. "I can't tell you how many tweets I had: 'Beat Iowa. Beat Wisconsin.' That's all they said."
This September, Gophers were well on their way to a 2-0 start during the 48-14 victory over Oregon State when the traveling Minnesota contingency in Corvallis, Ore., began chanting about their animosity toward the Hawkeyes — seven weeks before Saturday's 5:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Gophers had a golden opportunity to win in Iowa City slip away in 2015. The undefeated Hawkeyes were No. 5 in the College Football Playoff when Minnesota's interim head coach Tracy Claeys and the under-.500 Gophers visited. Iowa fans enjoyed a doubleheader with an outdoor wrestling match against Oklahoma State in the afternoon, and all fans and players wore black for the prime-time game.
In the fourth quarter, Gophers tricked the Hawkeyes with a halfback pass from Shannon Brooks, who hit Drew Wolitarsky for a 42-yard touchdown to pull the Gophers within 33-28. Three minutes later, Hawkeyes running back LeShun Daniels benefited from a missed hold on Minnesota linebacker Cody Poock, which help spring a 51-yard touchdown run.
After a late Brooks touchdown and a failed onside kick, Hawkeyes held on to win 40-35 and went on to the Rose Bowl.
The only other relatively close game in Iowa City this century was a 21-16 loss in 2007, but Eric Decker's touchdown reception with 98 seconds made the game appear closer than it really was in coach Tim Brewester's 1-11 first season.
After the 1999 win, Gophers coach Glen Mason's teams gave up at least 40 points in three more Iowa City games through 2005. Minnesota was shut out 12-0 in 2009, and Jerry Kill lost 31-13 in 2012.
The Gophers last held the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium.
Lots of praise and a dig
Even before this week, Fleck has credited Iowa for its stability. The Hawkeyes have had two coaches since 1979, while Minnesota has had 10 in that same timeframe.
"They're very — I can't even — I've got to be careful how I explain them: They're very set in their ways and they're very, very talented at it," Fleck said. "It's very difficult to put a 12- to 14-play drive together and score four different times against Iowa. They've done what they've done for so many years.
"Like I said before, the biggest compliment I can give them (is) about their culture. They've had two coaches in 40-some years, and the head coach now worked for the head coach prior, so it's really one culture for almost a half a century, right? And we've had six head coaches in 11 years."
As a millennial, Fleck got a sense of the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry while playing the now-defunct NCAA Football video game. "You play for all the trophy games, and you educate yourself that way," Fleck said.
Since arriving at Minnesota, Fleck has boned up on the history. He knows the Floyd of Rosedale trophy originated in the 1935 to help channel a contentious rivalry through a relationship between the state's governors.
Before the schools play for the 111th time on Saturday, the rivalry added a layer in May. Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son, accused Minnesota of pulling scholarship offers from recruits. The comments made during a Des Moines Register podcast blindsided the Gophers.
A few weeks later, Fleck said, "There are zero facts behind it. ... Usually it takes about a year for people to start talking about me and us, but it's already happening."
Fleck has not added kerosene to the rivalry this week, only compliments.
"It's just very special," Fleck said. "This is why you play in the Big Ten and this is why you coach in the Big Ten. This is why you come to the University of Minnesota to play in all these historic rivalries. It's very important."
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