A new week brings a new matchup, which brings a new opportunity for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. This week, Michigan hits the road for a date with Iowa. Let’s take a look at the Hawkeyes:
Overall Record: 5-4 (3-3 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (18th season)
Key Wins: Minnesota
Key Losses: Wisconsin, Penn State, North Dakota State
Key Players: C. J. Beathard (QB), Riley McCarron (WR), Akrum Wadley (RB), LeShun Daniels (RB) Desmond King (CB), George Kittle (TE)
Score vs. Michigan Last Season: N/A, Last played in 2013- Iowa won 24-21
What We Know
Hogs Gotta Eat
Iowa has had their fare share of struggles this year. After finishing 12-2 last year, many picked Iowa to cruise through the Big Ten West, en route to their second straight Big Ten Championship game. The Hawkeyes were undefeated in the regular season last season, before dropping their final two games to Michigan State (B1G Championship Game), and Stanford (Rose Bowl).
This year started out as many would have predicted, with blowout wins over Miami(OH), and Iowa State to begin the season 2-0. Things got a little “weird” in week three though, as the Hawkeyes dropped a home game to North Dakota State, 23-21. Since that game, the wheels have fallen off for Iowa as they have stumbled to a 3-3 record. The Hawkeyes now find themselves 5-4 overall, and 3-3 in the Big Ten West (4th place).
A big reason for the Hawkeyes struggles start up front. Due to injury, and lack of performance, Iowa has started five different offensive line combinations, and look set to start their sixth combination this weekend against the Wolverines. The Hawkeyes offensive line has allowed 24 sacks this season, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten. If I am an offensive lineman for Iowa, the last thing I want to see is Michigan’s fierce defensive line, who ranks 1st in the Big Ten, and 7th nationally in sacks. Michigan has also forced eight quarterbacks out of game action this season, and could potentially push that number to nine this week, if the Hawkeyes can’t protect C.J. Beathard.
Historically Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are a team who smash the ball between the tackles, and feature their tight ends via the passing game. Iowa boasts two of the top ten running backs in the Big Ten this season, and they will look to lean on them heavily this weekend. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Michigan’s defensive line is no joke. Iowa’s leading rusher this season is Akrum Wadley. His two biggest games came against Miami(OH) (121 yards, 2 touchdowns), and Purdue (176 yards, 1 touchdown). Their second leading rusher is LeShun Daniels, whose two biggest games came against Iowa State (112 yards, 1 touchdown), and Purdue (150 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The Michigan defensive line is superior to all three of those teams, and I would not be surprised at all to see them shut the run down this weekend. The only way I see Iowa having a chance of breaking big plays on the ground, is if they get creative with their offense (historically they never really have…). The Hawkeyes will need to feature end arounds, or sweep plays, to get their playmaking backs out in space, instead of running into a brick wall at the line of scrimmage.
What We Will Learn
Last year we witnessed a good Michigan team, struggle on the road with Minnesota, Indiana, and Utah (granted this was Harbaugh’s fist game with the troops). Some could even make the case that the Wolverines struggle on the road at Happy Valley, with a Penn State team that finished the year 7-6. Nonetheless, Michigan showed some struggle on the road last season. Of course Michigan has played well on the road this season, with a 78-0 victory over Rutgers, and a 32-23 victory over Michigan State. However, both those teams rank last in the Big Ten this season, and have yet to notch and Big Ten victory. The Hawkeyes simply are a much better team, and will play a better game than either of Michigan’s previous road games.
The key to a Wolverine victory lies in Wilton Speight’s hands (or arm). To this point Speight has been much better than anyone would have ever expected at the beginning of the season. If he can take care of the ball in this game, I think Michigan cruises to another blowout victory. If Speight struggles, and turns the ball over a few times in the first half, Michigan will struggle in this one.
Overall I think this is going to be a great Big Ten game. Iowa was a “great team” just a year ago, and now are in the position to play “spoiler”. I picked Iowa to win this game before the season (obviously they were projected to have a much better season at that point), and I’m still not 100% confident Michigan escapes this one without a scare. Make sure you are tuned in at 8pm on Saturday, to watch the Wolverines try to improve to 10-0 for the first time since 2006. Go Blue!