No. 15 Iowa keeps BCS bowl bid hopes alive, beats Minnesota 12-0

IOWA CITY, Iowa — With a bronze pig on the line, No. 15 Iowa put a new twist on winning ugly — this time by taking a game that featured more punts than points.

James Vandenberg threw for 117 yards, fellow freshman Brandon Wegher ran for a touchdown and Iowa kept alive its hopes for a BCS bowl bid by beating Minnesota 12-0 on Saturday.

The victory gave the Hawkeyes (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) double-digit victories for the first time since 2004, along with Floyd of Rosedale — the pig trophy awarded to the winner of the border rivalry — for the eighth time in nine tries.

A hog was the perfect prize for this one. Iowa and Minnesota combined for 17 punts and were only 5 of 33 on third-down conversions. But the Hawkeyes, who notched four wins this season by a total of eight points, won the battle to see which offense would be least ineffective.

“We try to keep our trophies here,” Iowa receiver Marvin McNutt said. “We don’t like our trophies going anywhere else. It’s great to have the pig with us.”

Iowa got field goals of 30 and 45 yards from Daniel Murray and a 1-yard TD run by Wegher, and its defense did the rest. The Hawkeyes stuffed the Gophers on four straight plays from the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter to blank Minnesota for the second straight season.

“They’ve played well all season long, so hats off to them. And we certainly needed a great effort out of them,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of his defense.

Adam Weber was 14 of 40 for 153 yards for the Gophers (6-6, 3-5), who scored just seven points in road games against Penn State, Ohio State and the Hawkeyes.

The Gophers offense finally caught a break when Vandenberg fumbled a snap that was recovered at Iowa’s 29-yard line with 13:40 left. They got as far as the 2 after a pass interference call in the end zone on Iowa’s Shaun Prater, but the Hawkeyes stopped a pair of runs and a pass before sacking Weber on fourth down.

Minnesota’s final shot came on fourth-and-10 at the Iowa 22 with 6:30 left, but Adrian Clayborn forced Weber out of the pocket and his pass into heavy coverage fell incomplete.

Though the Gophers outgained Iowa 201-171, they went 4 of 20 on third down, 2 of 6 on fourth down and failed to convert on two trips inside Iowa’s red zone.

“We had opportunities we didn’t take advantage of,” Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. “In a big game like this, taking advantage of opportunities you get is the key to the game.”

Murray’s 45-yard field goal early in the third quarter put the Hawkeyes ahead 12-0. They kept a Minnesota drive alive after being called for roughing Blake Haudan, but Iowa stuffed Jon Hoese on fourth-and-1 at the Iowa 34 late in the third quarter.

“This year has been more of an up-and-down rollercoaster,” Weber said. “It takes all 11 guys to score. We tried running it, we tried throwing it. They were just better than us.”

Minnesota committed three turnovers in the first half. Iowa wasn’t much better, gaining just 129 yards, but Wegher’s leaping touchdown run with 52 seconds left made it 9-0.

Minnesota’s first solid drive ended on a muffed snap, which Iowa’s Bruce Davis recovered at his own 17 early in the second quarter. Weber followed an intentional grounding penalty with another fumble, this time at the Hawkeyes 48.

The Gophers got the ball back when Vandenberg’s long third-down toss was picked off in the end zone by Marcus Sherels, but MarQueis Gray threw a pick after taking a handoff from Weber with 3:44 left in the first half, and Iowa capitalized with Wegher’s plunge.

Minnesota called its final timeout of the half before Murray’s extra-point try, a move that appeared curious until the Gophers blocked the kick.

Murray’s 30-yard field goal gave Iowa a 3-0 lead on the game’s first series. It turned out to be the Hawkeyes longest scoring drive of the day.

Robinson, who missed two games with an ankle injury, left after taking a big hit midway through the second quarter and did not return. Robinson said after the game that he simply “tweaked” his ankle and sat out as a precaution.

Iowa struggled to run the ball without him, with Wegher gaining just 26 yards on 15 carries. But after drubbing Minnesota 55-0 in the Metrodome last season, the Hawkeyes leaned on a stellar defensive effort to give Ferentz his fourth 10-win season.

Iowa must wait for everyone else to wrap things up. Though the Hawkeyes bowed out of the national title race with a 17-10 defeat to Northwestern and lost the Big Ten’s automatic BCS bid by falling at Ohio State, they’re still very much in the mix for a BCS bid.

For now, Ferentz and his players will kick back and take a break.

“To win 10 games in any conference is significant,” Ferentz said. “I’m going to enjoy this one, I promise you.”

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