Gophers’ conservative approach made them the bug in Iowa’s Venus flytrap

Paul Bunyan’s Axe stands prominently inside the Gophers’ Hall of Fame Room at the Larson Football Performance Center.

In order to not lose that rivalry trophy against Wisconsin next weekend, Minnesota needs to move on from the fact that they still don’t possess the Floyd of Rosedale rivalry trophy after eight long years. The latest setback to Iowa came in a razor-thin 13-10 loss on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck claimed he was disappointed but not discouraged by the result. But elements of despondency could be excused for the way it went down.

Fleck had compared Iowa’s defense to a Venus flytrap, the carnivorous plant that lies in wait until the insect gets too close and then snaps shut with its unsuspecting meal inside.

“They just stay open, open, open and then the bug just can’t help himself,” Fleck said Tuesday on KFXN-FM. “It goes in and gets the pollen, and poof. It just swallows you up, and that is how they win a ton of games.”

But Fleck and Co. are not young, naive grasshoppers. They should have learned about how and why they have lost to Iowa in the past and found a way not repeat those mistakes.

Yet Fleck’s conservative, don’t-get-eaten approach had the same result.

Minnesota had a fourth-and-1 from Iowa’s 16 with less than a minute left in the first half. Instead of going for it, Fleck opted to kick a field goal, and Matthew Trickett missed the 34-yarder wide right.

With Mo Ibrahim’s 35-yard rush, the Gophers had driven 73 yards on a stout Iowa defense to set up a great opportunity. Trailing 10-7, Fleck opted for the tying points instead of trying for the lead.

Fleck was asked about his thought process in deciding to not go for it on fourth down deep in Iowa territory. He thought the question as about deciding to punt on fourth-and-1 from their own 38-yard line in the first quarter.

“This game was going to take patience, and if you don’t get that, and you give Iowa … — remember, Iowa’s offense, statistically, if you give them a short field, they are scoring points,” Fleck said. “Give them a long field, they are not going to score any points. I don’t regret that decision one bit.”

In the fourth quarter, the opportunistic Hawkeyes defense preyed when Minnesota needed to pass. Facing third-and-7 from Iowa’s 33, Athan Kaliakmanis tried to thread a pass to Le’Meke Brokington on a slant. It was tipped by Riley Moss and intercepted by Jack Campbell, who returned it 30 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

On a cold and windy day, the Gophers did not challenge the Hawkeyes’ secondary, throwing only two passes longer than 20 yards. Those two deep balls came in their final two attempts. While two of the four quarters were spent going into the wind, there was nothing deep for nearly 60 minutes, until that last-ditch drive with less than 30 seconds left.

Neither was close to being completed.

But as frustrating as yet another loss to Iowa will be to those tied to Minnesota, the U needs to put it in the past, and quickly. The Gophers have done this before, following a three-game losing streak with three consecutive wins before Saturday.

The Gophers have another rivalry game on the horizon, and losing two straight would leave their trophy cases holding only their recent bowl game silverware. A loss to Wisconsin would result in a 7-5 record, with an even more lackluster bowl looming on the horizon in December.

This is when the Gophers need to shoot their shot.

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