IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said his team "touched the stove too many times" in its first loss of the season but still can target historic goals in a season filled with milestones.
Entering Kinnick Stadium at 9-0 for the first time in 115 years, the eighth-ranked Golden Gophers cut a 14-point halftime deficit to four in the closing minutes but fell 23-19 to No. 20 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa retained the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the fifth consecutive year despite being outgained 431-290, generating only 69 yards in the second half and scoring just three points after halftime.
"It's hard to go undefeated in the Big Ten," Fleck said. "There's one undefeated team in the Big Ten left [No. 2 Ohio State]. It's so difficult. ... What we learned was we can beat ourselves in big-time games, but also get beat at the same time. We're 0-1 in the Iowa season. That's literally my message. It's one game that we lost by four points to a very good Iowa team in a rivalry game.
"It does not take away from the nine [wins] they've accomplished before this, or the 45 other nevers or restored moments or 1904. It takes away none of that. All it does is make us not undefeated anymore, which is disappointing."
Minnesota came in with its highest ranking in the CFP standings after upsetting No. 4 Penn State last week in Minneapolis. But the Gophers fell behind 13-0 and struggled to contain an aggressive and balanced Iowa offense in the first quarter.
Linebacker Thomas Barber said the team wasn't mentally prepared early on, missing several tackles and struggling to finish drives. Minnesota had only 63 rushing yards on 30 attempts and scored on only four of seven drives that reached Iowa territory.
"As bad as we played, we still had an opportunity to go win that football game in the last two minutes," Fleck said. "It just wasn't good enough. We didn't start fast enough."
The Gophers made four trips to Iowa's red zone but scored just one touchdown, a Rodney Smith 1-yard run with only 3:27 left. Smith attributed the struggles to "a lack of communication, a lack of execution." After cutting Iowa's lead to 20-13, Minnesota drove to the Hawkeyes' 14-yard line, but standout wide receiver Tyler Johnson dropped a fourth-down pass that would have resulted in a first down. Fleck sprinted onto the field after the play to check on Johnson, and both he and Iowa's Dane Belton drew unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
"I was told I ran on the field too fast," said Fleck, who played wide receiver at Northern Illinois and briefly in the NFL. "I get that, but I didn't know when there was a red light and a green light to tell us when we can go on the field. The whistle blew, the play's over, my player's laying motionless on the ground. I've been on a staff, watched Eric LeGrand lay motionless and break his neck at Rutgers. We as coaches get criticized when we don't show enough compassion to somebody that's hurt in this game, in 2019.
"I'm 38 years old. I can run. And I'm going to make sure I'm the first one they see, if I can, when they open their eyes, or to make sure that play's stopped."
Johnson, who returned to the game on Minnesota's next series, said Fleck "was just doing his job." Fleck said he didn't understand the call but also accepted complete responsibility for Minnesota's first loss since Nov. 17, 2018.
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan, who had a game-high 368 passing yards, left the field with 1:07 left after being sacked by Iowa's A.J. Epenesa. Backup quarterback Cole Kramer entered and threw an incomplete pass before being intercepted on fourth-and-21 by Iowa's Riley Moss.
Fleck said Morgan looked "woozy" after the play and said the sophomore likely will be evaluated for a possible concussion.
Iowa fans rushed the field as players paraded the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. Several Iowa fans mocked Minnesota's "Row the Boat" motto, as one held a wooden oar with an Iowa logo and the inscription: "This is how we row."
"We were talking about sinking the boat all week," Hawkeyes defensive end Chauncey Golston said. "They had a lot of momentum coming in, but hey, we weren't trying to lose the pig. It was never theirs to begin with. We just wanted it to stay in Iowa City."
Golston later added: "They want to row the boat, you want to sink the boat. You can't row a boat that's sunk."
Minnesota's goal of winning its first Big Ten West Division title remains very much afloat with two regular-season games left. The Gophers maintain a one-game lead against rival Wisconsin, which visits Minneapolis on Nov. 30 after hosting Purdue next week. Minnesota next plays at Northwestern.
"This is not the end of the world," Fleck said. "It's a tough loss. It hurts. It should hurt. It's a rivalry game. Football matters in the state of Minnesota. It matters nationally. That's a good thing, and everybody knows that.
"This is one game. That's all that means. Everything we want and everything we wrote down is right in front of us. Nothing's changed."