NCF Nation: Insight 2009 bowls

Instant analysis: ISU 14, Minnesota 13

December, 31, 2009
Iowa State pushed the Big 12's bowl record to 3-2 with an upset victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.

Here's how the Cyclones pulled off the victory.

How the game was won: Minnesota was driving for a winning score when quarterback MarQueis Gray fumbled at the Iowa State 20. Cornerback Ter’ran Benton made the recovery to kill the Gophers’ final possession with 4:03 left in the game.

It’s notable: ISU’s victory snapped a 21-game winless streak against Minnesota. It was ISU’s first victory over the Gophers since notching a 6-0 triumph over the Gophers on Oct. 22, 1898.

Turning point: After struggling offensively through the beginning of the game, the Cyclones scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions late in the first half to account for all of their scoring. ISU went 71 yards on 10 plays on the first touchdown and executed offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s no-huddle offense to perfection on the following drive. Austen Arnaud completed all four passes on that 89-yard drive drive, capping it with a 38-yard strike to Jake Williams that boosted them to a 14-3 halftime advantage.

Alexander Robinson
AP Photo/Matt YorkAlexander Robinson dominated the match with a game-high 137 rushing yards.
Player of the game: ISU running back Alexander Robinson dominated with a game-high 137 rushing yards and a key 26-yard reception that helped tilt field position in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game: 168:51. The amount of time between offensive touchdowns for Minnesota. Nick Tow-Arnett’s 23-yard touchdown pass from Adam Weber in the third quarter snapped a touchdown drought for the Gophers’ offense that dated to their game against Illinois on Nov. 7 - a stretch of more than 11 quarters.

Best call: Despite some earlier struggles, Arnaud’s 38-yard TD strike to Williams gave the Cyclones a comfortable halftime lead they were able to barely maintain for the rest of the game.

What it means: The 7-6 Cyclones finished a remarkable turnaround in Coach Paul Rhoads’ first season, improving by five games over their 2-10 record last season. It enabled them to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2005 as they claimed only the third bowl victory in the 118-season history of the program. And while 2009 made the Cyclones one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, Rhoads will be hard-pressed to duplicate this season’s surprising success. The Cyclones schedule will become much harder next year with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Northern Illinois and Utah added to the schedule. It will be a huge challenge for the Cyclones to duplicate their first-season success with Rhoads.
Minnesota's second-half rally fell short as a mistake-prone offense made one too many in the closing minutes. The Big Ten fell to 1-1 in bowls with three more teams in action New Year's Day.

How the game was won: The teams combined for six turnovers, and Iowa State had four of them, but Minnesota committed the most damaging giveaway in the closing minutes as backup quarterback MarQueis Gray fumbled in the red zone. Minnesota's defense turned in a terrific performance, and quarterback Adam Weber had some nice moments at times, but the offense squandered too many scoring opportunities. Iowa State rode running back Alexander Robinson and a stout red-zone defense to victory.

Turning point: After taking over at its own 1-yard line, Minnesota drove downfield behind a revived offense. Coordinator Jedd Fisch effectively mixed personnel and play calls, and Gray had been stepping up as both a quarterback and a wide receiver. But on first-and-10 from the Iowa State 17-yard line, Gray coughed up the ball and the Cyclones recovered with 4:03 left. Iowa State then ran out the clock.

Stat of the game: Minnesota had seven drives reach Iowa State territory but only scored three times (one touchdown, two field goals).

[+] EnlargeKyle Theret
AP Photo/Matt YorkKyle Theret had two interceptions and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt.
Player of the game: For Iowa State, Robinson went for 140 rush yards on 23 carries. But I've got to give this to Minnesota safety Kyle Theret, who recorded two interceptions and had a 40-yard reception on a fake punt in the third quarter. The senior really stepped up in his final collegiate game.

Best call: Trailing 14-3 in the third quarter, Minnesota called a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from its own 37-yard line. Punter Blake Haudan found Theret, who raced 40-yards. The Gophers scored their first touchdown on the next play, as Weber found Nick Tow-Arnett.

What it means: Minnesota drops to 6-7 on a season that began with elevated expectations and an experienced roster. Athletic director Joel Maturi said earlier this week that Brewster is safe and will receive a contract extension. And though the team didn't look great on offense at times, it's not Brewster's fault that Gray fumbled. On the other hand, Mike Leach is available, right? The Gophers head into the offseason with questions on offense, and Weber and Gray will compete for the starting job this spring. There will be pressure on Brewster and his staff to win more than six games in 2010.

Insight Bowl preview

December, 30, 2009
Here's what you need to know about Thursday's matchup between Minnesota (6-6) and Iowa State (6-6) in the Insight Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: Adam Weber. The Minnesota junior quarterback has taken a step back in his third year as the starter, but as he showed on Halloween night against Michigan State, he still can light it up. Weber also can struggle mightily, as he showed in shutout losses to Iowa and Penn State and a near shutout at Ohio State. Golden Gophers head coach Tim Brewster will open up the quarterback competition in spring practice, but Weber can help his cause with a strong showing against a vulnerable Iowa State defense that ranks 95th nationally against the pass (245 ypg). Minnesota is still searching for someone to replace Eric Decker's production, but Weber has some decent options in tight end Nick Tow-Arnett and wide receiver Troy Stoudermire. If Weber struggles, don't be surprised if Minnesota goes to MarQueis Gray.

WHAT TO WATCH: Minnesota's linebackers against Iowa State's rushing attack. Seniors Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence have carried the Gophers' defense this fall, combining for 284 tackles. Iowa State isn't much of a passing team and wants to get Alexander Robinson going. Robinson, ranked 29th nationally in rushing average, is a Minneaoplis native who nearly considered transferring to Minnesota after Gene Chizik bolted from Ames. If Minnesota can plug the middle with defensive tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small, the linebackers should be in position to slow down Robinson and mobile quarterback Austen Arnaud.

WHY TO WATCH: Brewster is safe and will receive a contract extension in the near future, but this remains a pivotal game for the Minnesota program. A victory assures Minnesota of a winning season and could bring some life back to a fan base that seems unhappy with the current direction. The Gophers haven't won a bowl game since 2004 and lost the Insight Bowl in 2006 and 2008. A loss will brand the 2009 season as a disappointment and increase the pressure on Brewster and his assistants this offseason. It's also a nice regional game between two upper Midwest teams that haven't played since 1997.

PREDICTION: Neither of these teams is very good, and both offenses are inconsistent at best. Expect a low-scoring affair, and the team that makes the fewest number of major mistakes wins. Iowa State will have more fans in Tempe and could be more motivated than Minnesota, which has gone to the Insight Bowl in three of the past four years. The Gophers offense has been too inconsistent for my liking, and Iowa State finds a way to win, 17-14.