2009 Insight Bowl Preview
Minnesota (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Iowa State (6-6, 3-5; Big XII)
December 31st, 2009 @ 6:00 PM (EST) – NFL Network – Tempe, Arizona
The Insight Bowl sprang into existence in 1989 as the Copper Bowl and was rechristened to its current name in 1997. While the game has featured a long and varied list of conference partners, the current format has seen the Big XII defeat the Big Ten for three consecutive seasons. This game also boasts the unfortunate status as the only game this bowl season that matches two 6-6 teams.
Iowa State had a major turnaround in Paul Rhoads’ first season, earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005. The unquestioned highlight of the season was Iowa State’s 9-7 victory at Nebraska that saw the Cyclones force eight turnovers to earn their first win in Lincoln since 1977. However, ISU limped to the finish line with losses in three of their final four games.
Despite their improvement in record, Iowa State still was terrible offensively in 2009, finishing 102th in the country in scoring at a meek 21.2 points per game. The Cyclones were actually fairly decent on the ground, finishing 36th in rushing but they were abysmal passing at 97th and they had trouble keeping control of the football, finishing 78th with 24 cough ups. In short, this isn’t a very good offense.
On the other hand, Iowa State was fairly strong defensively, finishing 43rd in scoring at 22.6 points per game. However, they struggled at 90th in run defense and 95th in pass defense, so clearly their yardage totals don’t match up with their scoring results. That can be explained pretty easily because the Cyclones forced 30 turnovers to finish 8th in the country in takeaways! Iowa State isn’t very good defensively but they’re lethal at stealing the football.
Minnesota is extremely familiar with the Insight Bowl as this will be their 3rd visit to the desert in four years. However, that’s a bad sign because it means that the Gophers aren’t producing anything better than mediocre teams. Minnesota is coached by Tim Brewster, whose three seasons have produced a 14-23 record and one bowl loss. Needless to say, Brewster is in need of a strong finish to a poor year.
The Golden Gopher offense regressed in a major way with a philosophical shift to a pro-style offense and they finished with a miserable 98th ranking in offense at 21.6 points per game. The Gophers were particularly terrible on the ground with a pithy 97 yards per game, 112th nationally. Their passing attack wasn’t much better as the midseason loss of superstar receiver Eric Decker completely derailed their offense. How important was Decker? Before his injury in the 7th game of the year, Minnesota was averaging 27 points per game. After that, the Gophers could only muster an average of 14 points! Needless to say, they have some serious deficiencies on offense.
Minnesota was at least respectable defensively, finishing 56th nationally at 24.6 points per game. They were equally average against the run (64th) and the pass (61st) but they were actually fairly solid in the turnover department as their 24 takeaways earned a 32nd national rank. Seeing their statistics, they look a lot better than the Gophers did down the stretch because this team underwhelmed.
This is a rather poor offensive matchup. Both teams are extremely challenged and the best playmaker on either team saw his season end in October. Meanwhile, both teams have opportunistic defenses and they should be the force in this game. Expect a lot of turnovers and offensive ineptitude.
Perhaps the biggest factor in this game will be both teams’ motivation. Iowa State seems to have a clear edge as their players are extremely excited to be in this game and are extremely loyal to their coach after being spurned last year by Gene Chizik. Meanwhile, Minnesota is making their third trip to the desert, where they haven’t yet won. Minnesota’s regular season ended with a thud and I seriously question how excited they are to be in Tempe.
With motivation and a superior defense on their side, it seems that the Cyclones are the favorites in this contest. Furthermore, while both teams might have struggled to the finish, Minnesota was shut out twice, held to a touchdown another and barely beat a D-1AA team in the final half of the season! That’s simply horrid. With all of these factors considered, this game seems to be ripe for an Iowa State victory to cap off a successful debut campaign for Paul Rhoads.
Insight Bowl Pick: Iowa State 20, Minnesota 13
by Matt Baxendell
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