Sid Hartman
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Rest assured, the Gophers won’t make the same mistakes in their next two games against Northwestern and Wisconsin the way they did against Iowa in a 23-19 loss at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

The Gophers fell behind early, going down 13-0 in the first quarter and just barely got the score to 20-6 at the half.

Then they dominated for the most part in the second half, but they just had too many uncharacteristic plays.

“We played some of our worst football but still had a chance to win the game,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said to the media in Iowa City after the loss.

The Gophers still lead the Big Ten West by one game over Wisconsin. The Badgers didn’t play great at Nebraska on Saturday, and the fact is that if the Gophers win out they will reach the Big Ten championship game. Reach that game and they will have a real shot at making the Rose Bowl.

Of course if quarterback Tanner Morgan misses any significant time after suffering a concussion late in Saturday’s game, that could all change.

But looking back at this loss, the Gophers started the season 9-0 because they didn’t commit big penalties like they did in this game; they didn’t have dropped balls like they did in this game; and they didn’t make coaching mistakes like they did in this game.

But like Fleck said, the Gophers played uncharacteristic football and still had a chance to win with time running out late.

Make no mistake about it, the Gophers lost to a good Iowa team — the Hawkeyes’ three losses are to Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin by a combined 14 points — in hostile territory.

Offense performed

The simple fact is this Gophers offense was as good as ever, facing one of the top defenses in the country.

The Gophers outgained the Hawkeyes 431-290. The 431 yards were the second most against Iowa all season. The Gophers were able to move the ball at will, but they simply had too many big mistakes at the wrong moment. And those were the kinds of things that hadn’t happened all season.

They also committed five penalties for 52 yards in key situations. Iowa had only three for 16.

The Gophers also missed a field-goal attempt, from 50 yards, and an extra-point try.

Fleck will be questioned for his decision to attempt a 50-yard field goal in the first quarter trailing 6-0 with Brock Walker — who was playing in his first road game this season.

But they also had two big dropped passes — including one on fourth-and-4 late in the third quarter that could have put them in position to tie the score. The decision to not have Walker kick a field goal on that play, with the Gophers were trailing 20-13, was also questionable.

Instead the Gophers went for it. Morgan — who was excellent all day, completing 25 of 36 passes for 368 yards and a score before getting injured late — threw a pass to Tyler Johnson that was dropped.

And that shows just how odd this game was; the Gophers receivers are the best in the Big Ten and among the very best in the country. They had 368 yards receiving against Iowa in an incredible performance, but they also had a few mistakes that were costly.

Eventually, Iowa was able to add a field goal to make the lead 23-13 — meaning the Gophers needed two scores to tie.

And while the Gophers got a touchdown, they missed the PAT, and when they got the ball back at the end down four, they simply didn’t have enough time or timeouts to go the length of the field for a winning score.

Despite this tough loss, the Gophers remain in control in the Big Ten West, and there’s no chance they will have a game like this the rest of the season.

Vikings O-line much improved

Through 10 games last season, the Vikings ranked second-to-last in the NFL in rushing yards with 847 — the only team worse than them was the New York Giants.

But this season they rank second in the NFL with 1,530 rushing yards, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens.

Last Sunday at Dallas, the Vikings rushed for 153 yards, the most the Cowboys have given up all season.

They also have been much improved in pass protection, giving up only 17 sacks through 10 games, which ranks seventh in the NFL. Compare that to last season, when they gave up 26 sacks through 10 weeks, which ranked 15th in the league.

The offensive line has played a huge part in that turnaround and tackle Brian O’Neill, in his second season, has been tremendous.

Asked what changed from one year to the next, O’Neill pointed to some personnel and coaching changes.

“I think we added [rookie center] Garrett [Bradbury], he’s a great player and he’s helping a lot,” O’Neill said. “I think the coaches are putting us in a really good position to succeed and we are playing hard and running fast and Dalvin [Cook] is running the ball so he is doing a great job.”

Jottings

• Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on the challenges Denver presents: “They’re the fourth-ranked defense, and it is no mystery because you turn on the tape and it’s really impressive. They can get after the quarterback, they are stout against the run, they have players at every level of the defense, they are obviously well-coached. We will have our work cut out for us.”

• Safety Harrison Smith broke down what he sees from the Broncos offense: “Good running back, big-play receiver outside, tight end that can run, got a good defense for a long time. Their record I’m sure is not what they want, but they have played every team very close. They’re a good football team.”

Kirk Cousins has faced Denver only once in his career, throwing for 299 yards and three scores in a 27-11 victory in 2017 with Washington.

• According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions’ Frank Ragnow of Chanhassen is ranked as the best center in the NFL and the Redskins’ Chase Roullier of Burnsville is No. 3. The Vikings’ Garrett Bradbury ranks No. 28 but has been much better of late.

• The Vikings are 2-7 in Seattle, where they will play after the bye week on “Monday Night Football.” They last won there in 2006 with Mike Holmgren and Brad Childress coaching.

• With the Twins already losing hitting coach James Rowson to Miami and bench coach Derek Shelton likely leaving for Pittsburgh, you have to wonder if they will give manager Rocco Baldelli a big pay raise after he became the youngest winner ever of the AL Manager of the Year award.

• The Wolves’ Andrew Wiggins has scored 8,053 points and has a chance to reach 9,000 this season at the age of 24. Only seven players have done that in history — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Anthony Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. • shartman@startribune.com