Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - The Minnesota Golden Gophers football team kicks off the Big Ten schedule this weekend with a rivalry game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Despite struggles the Gophers have experienced over the last few years, for two years running, the Gophers have walked away from this matchup with the Floyd of Rosedale hoisted above their victorious heads. In fact, since Floyd of Rosedale was introduced to the rivalry in 1935, the Golden Gophers have etched their name into the pig's base 41 times while the Hawkeyes have marked it just 34 times (with 2 games ending in a tie).
Having tasted the thrill of victory, the Gophers are hoping to cross the border this weekend and return having protected the pig and earning Jerry Kill his first conference win on the road as coach of the Golden Gophers.
"We have our work cut out for us," Kill said of facing Iowa this weekend. "They look like Iowa always looks like. Big, strong, physical; they come downhill, hit you in the mouth, play good defense, and keep the ball in front of them. They're very good and we go to Iowa City to play on their turf."
Kill and the Gophers have gotten off to a quick start, opening the season 4-0 with three victories coming on their home turf at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Even with the early season success, Kill is working to keep this young team level-headed and grounded as they prepare to head on the road.
"We still have a lot of work to do to be a good football team," Kill said Tuesday. "But we're pleased where we're at, and now we've got to step up and continue to move forward. It's a big step going to Iowa City, going on the road is always tough. That's where our preparation will start."
While most of the team considers the trip to Iowa City a road trip, senior tight end John Rabe has an extra pop in his step as he prepares to head home to play in front of family and friends hailing from the state of Iowa.
Growing up in Iowa Falls, Rabe has been well aware of the Gopher/Hawkeye rivalry most of his life. Now, as a Gopher, the game has taken on a whole new meaning.
"Growing up in Iowa, [Minnesota/Iowa] is all I heard about," Rabe said. "That was 'The Pig Game.' I went down to Kinnick Stadium when I was maybe ten years old to watch the game being played. [Now] I want to keep the pig here, [in Minnesota].
So far this season, Rabe has hauled in three touchdown passes. The addition of Max Shortell, who is known as more of a passing quarterback than the injured MarQueis Gray, should help Rabe as he looks to impress his personal guests at the game. Circumstantially, his improved role in the offense should help the Gophers to overcome the sometimes plucky Iowa defense.
Yet, even with all of the excitement surrounding his homecoming, Rabe understands the importance of this rivalry game and knows what a win could mean to the University of Minnesota.
"During camp we actually had a whole meeting where we talked about rivalry games," Rabe explained.
Kill also shared this fact saying that alumni letterman joined the team for this preseason meeting to explain the importance of the rivalry games and the importance of beating Iowa to retain Floyd of Rosedale.
"[They explained] what it means to the state, to the school and to us players," Rabe said. "We know there's going to be a lot of people watching us, and we're going to be ready to go."
Rabe left us Tuesday with a quick story that summarizes the passion the Gopher fans have during Hawkeye week. Rabe said that during the week one game at UNLV in Las Vegas, he could hear fans in the stands chanting, "Who hates Iowa?" and answering themselves with a boisterous, "WE HATE IOWA!"
With that kind of passion, there's no doubt the fans will be ready on Sunday and for Floyd's sake, we hope the players will be as well.
Aj Mansour covers the Twins, Vikings, & Gopher Football for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Golden Gopher updates and breaking news follow Aj on Twitter @AjMansourKFAN