#15 Michigan (7-1) vs. Iowa (5-3)
Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City,Iowa
Kickoff 12 pm EST
Forecast: High 50s, 10% chance of rain
Iowa 21 - Minnesota 22. Last week, Iowa did the seemingly impossible and lost to moribund Minnesota. They did this despite a 252-yard, 7.9 YPC day from star running back Marcus Coker. How you manage those numbers against anyone and only score 21 points is beyond me--well, Iowa did miss two field goals during the game, but still--but Iowa did, ending MGoBlog's GopherQuest: a journey to see if Minnesota would be the worst Big Ten team ever. Beyond Coker, the rest of the Hawkeyes put up decent numbers if Minnesota were a real opponent (they're not): quarterback James Vandenberg completed 66% of his passes for 177 yards (7.7 YPA) and the team only turned the ball over once.
So the offense threw away 6 points in missed field goals and only scored 21 against arguably the worst defense in the country, and that might have been the better of the two units on the day. Gopher quarterback Marqueis Gray managed one of his best days as a passer completing 11 of 17 passes for 193 yards (11.4 YPA), one touchdown, and no interceptions. The ground game was similarly effective. Duane Bennett carries the ball 20 times for 101 yards, and Gray carried it 11 times for 62 yards. Simply put, Iowa's cover-2 bend don't break defense was particularly bendy and occasionally breaky.
Though a shocking loss, last Saturday shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Iowa already has a loss to "in-state rival" Iowa State and a 13-3 loss to Penn State. This is probably not a very good football team.
Purdue 14 - #18 Michigan 36. You know what happened last week: Michigan played a vastly inferior opponent and for the first time since 2007 (in the Big Ten that is) actually beat that opponent convincingly [Edit: There was also that Minnesota game, but the Gophers can hardly be considered a Big Ten team]. Despite Michigan's tandem of quarterbacks throwing a pair of interceptions, Michigan cruised to victory thanks in large part to Fitz Toussaint's breakout rushing performance (170 yards, 2 TDs, 8.5 YPC). Denard and the passing game found their stride thanks in part to some new passing routes debuted by Al Borges, while the rushing game was successful because Purdue's linebackers are slow as something that's very slow.
It wasn't a flawless performance by the team, however. Denard was still showing signs of inexperience going through his reads and Devin Gardner's interception was, well, not great. These were minor issues in an otherwise thorough beating of a lesser team.
Offense vs. Iowa
For the first time in a while, the Iowa defense is mediocre, ranking 69th nationally in rushing defense (163.63 YPG), 91st in pass efficiency defense, and 40th in scoring defense (23.13 PPG). The most surprising ranking is the team's terrible pass defense. For a unit that plays almost exclusively cover-2, seeing that kind of performance against the pass is surprising. Then again, it's possible that opponents are using the Hawkeyes conservativeness against them, forcing matchups between slot receivers and linebackers. I haven't watched enough Iowa film to really tell, but something is rotten in their secondary.
The team's one defensive star is defensive end Broderick Binns. Adrian Clayborn he is not, but that shouldn't matter anyway since the last time the Wolverines faced Clayborn, he was completely shut down by Taylor Lewan. Other than Binns, the Iowa defense is unremarkable. They run the blandest of Big Ten Cover-2 Defenses and have very few playmakers. Beating their defense will be a matter of specifically attacking their cover-2 scheme and not turning the ball over.
As Iowa's rankings suggest, Michigan shouldn't have any trouble moving the ball on the ground against the Hawkeyes. Either inside or out, Michigan has the advantage. The Iowa starting defensive tackles weigh in at 280 lbs and 277 lbs, which you can get away with running solely four-man fronts but is still not preferable. If Michigan's inside linemen can get some push against the Iowa front four, they should be solidly in the 5+ YPC range. On the outside, it will be interesting to see if Iowa plays a nickel package at all. If they don't, expect the Michigan offense to zone read their linebackers to death. If they do, the running game will feature more Toussaint and less QB carries.
Through the air, the battle will be Good Denard vs. Evil Denard. You might remember this Evil Denard highlight against Iowa from 2009
If you chose to block that out, I don't blame you. This is the kind of thing that cover-2 defenses do to unseasoned quarterbacks, the likes of which we appear to have again this year. If Borges can find Denard some easy throws and not saddle him with long down and distances, Michigan should be able to move the ball well.
Defense vs. Iowa
The Iowa offense is about as milquetoast as their defense, ranking somewhere in the 50-60 range in almost all categories. They're arguably the most traditional offense in the Big Ten running lots of power-I formations and depending heavily on the run game. This, in theory, works for them. The Hawkeyes have an experienced offensive line and the aforementioned Coker who is capable of racking up 252 albeit against a terrible defense. Coker is 6'0", 230 lbs and is basically a freight train. He doesn't have too much shake to him, but with that kind of size, picking up three to five yards is a breeze. The key to stopping Coker is to plug him at the line of scrimmage. If Michigan's defensive line is getting pushed off the line, it's going to mean bad things, but if the DL and linebackers can close off initial gaps, Coker can be contained.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of blitz pressure Mattison uses in this game. The zone blitzes that he's shown all year and almost exclusively pass blitzes. Against Purdue, the defensive line stunted more frequently than they ever have before, often to great effect. Don't be surprised to see the defensive line stunting a lot on running downs to try and bait Coker into gaps and confuse the offensive line.
Junior quarterback Vandenberg can best be described as Just a Quarterback. On the season, he's completing 62% of his passes for 8.52 YPA. He does have a 17/4 TD/INT ratio, but he is of the Iowa quarterback mold: system quarterback, game manager, [some other backhanded compliment]. Give him time in the pocket or make a mistake and he'll hurt you, especially with Marvin McNutt on the outside. But Vandenberg doesn't move particularly well and won't beat you on his own.
McNutt is the real dangerman. Michigan has already played a pterodactyl-like creature in Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and came away with all of their limbs in tact. In Iowa's more traditional offense, there will be less opportunities for McNutt to beat the Michigan defense than Floyd had. If Michigan can shut down McNutt or force Vandenberg to throw only underneath passes to him because of blitz pressure, that will cripple the Iowa passing game.
It's hard to be scared of a team the week after they lose to Minnesota, especially one that seems to match up so poorly with Michigan. Though I expect Coker to have a good game, my fear of him declined exponentially after Michigan's defensive ends and linebackers showed that they knew how to contain the edge. Coker is going to spend most of the game running straight ahead between the tackles directly into linebackers and safeties who will fall on contact but also drag him to the ground. Vandenberg will be Vandenberg and get his yards through the air. If most of those are going to non-McNutt players, Michigan is in good shape.
Offensively, Michigan is going to have a very up and down day. The Iowa defense is constructed to either stuff drives before they really get rolling or allow them to slowly rumble down the field. Denard and Co. will have a few three-and-outs during the game, but they'll also string together a number of quality drives. Toussaint comes back to earth but still eclipses 100 yards. Also, I expect that Denard will be targeted on a pass sometime during the game. In the end, the good drives outweigh the bad ones and Michigan comes away with the victory.
Michigan 31 - Iowa 24