Preview: Michigan vs. Iowa

Wait a second, that wasn't fun at all.  Remember back when Michigan could relatively be expected to win nearly every game, and Lloyd was yelling at the referees on the sideline, and 6'5" limestone statues with kitty cannon arms threw touchdowns? 

Kitten_20cannon_medium

Michigan Quarterback Arm circa 1990-2007

One of the rights of passage for Michigan fans during the era immediately following 1997 through the hiring of Rich Rodriguez was to lose a game that seemed winnable on paper, then go through the various machinations the could see Michigan still sneak into the title game, or go to a BCS bowl.  HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN PEOPLE!  You see, all Michigan needs to do is win out, and they will likely be on the path to a Rose Bowl, assuming Michigan State drops a few (and they have to right?...right?) or wins out and goes to the BCS championship game.  We're still alive baby! 

This week, Michigan plays Iowa in Ann Arbor for homecoming.  After the loss last week, Michigan sits at 5-1 on the season, 1-1 in Big Ten play.  Iowa, by virtue of a bye last week, is 4-1 with their only loss coming to Arizona on the road.  Vegas has Iowa giving Michigan 3 points, making UM a home underdog for the first time this season.  Every year around this time we turn our eyes to Black Heart Gold Pants, then remember what that site entails, and turn back away disgustedly.  This year, however, they bring us this:

Denard_pacmangame_medium

As well as, unfortunately, this:

Fuctman_medium

via assets.sbnation.com

My recommendation is to go to the full post and enjoy even more awesomeness.

Iowa Football History

If there was ever a (We're from Iowa!) moment, it probably comes from the first sentence of Iowa Hawkeyes Football's wiki page:

The Iowa Hawkeyes football team is the interscholastic football team at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

We're from Iowa!

The Hawkeyes have been playing football at the varsity level since 1889, and their inclusion into the Big Ten came a year after.  Impressively, Iowa shared the conference championship in their first full season as a member (see Penn State - that's how you do it...).  Iowa's football history is one of early success and middling failure before settling comfortably just north of mediocre.  Coach Howard Jones led the Hawkeyes to 20 straight victories in the early 20's before bolting to USC, and letting Iowa sink to obscurity throughout most of the 30's until Nile Kinnick came in and won every single award including the Heisman.  He won "World's Greatest Dad" that year (or so said his teeshirt) despite the fact that he had not yet had a child.  That award pushed him over the top in the battle to name the stadium: the Hawkeyes play at Kinnick Stadium.  After a brief outburst of awesomeness in the 50's, Iowa went completely dormant until Hayden Fry took the reigns in 1978, reviving the program and settling it firmly into that mediocre-good range that they find themselves in today.  Kirk Ferentz is the current coach, which is awesome given that, for a brief second, he was the all the hotness in the great Michigan Coaching Search of 2007-8. 

Iowa Today

Offense

Offense
Yards/Points per Game
National Rank
Scoring Offense
33.6
33
Total Offense
426.3
33
Rushing Offense
172.2
45
Passing Offense
254.2
32


The Iowa offense is a solid unit focused mostly around Senior Quarterback Ricky Stanzi's newfound ability to not throw to the other team.  Thus far he only has 2 INT's on the season, and Iowa is living high on the hog in turnover margin, ranked 18th nationally.  He is currently rated 3rd in the Big Ten in passer efficiency.  Stanzi credits experience:

"With experience, obviously, you hope to be able to progress faster, see things a little bit easier, kind of slow the game down as they say… I should be able to do that now. That’s what’s expected of me, and that’s what I want to do to help out the offense."

Opposite of experienced are the Iowa tailbacks, victims of whichever vengeful god seems to also have his eyes on the Michigan secondary.  Sophomore Adam Robinson leads the Iowa rushing attack, averaging 96 yards per game, and just over 4.5 yards per carry.  You'll remember that Jewel Hampton was expected to be the starting tailback until he got hurt in the loss to Arizona.  Again.  The Iowa running game now resembles the Michigan kicking game, at least in this one way: Kirk Ferentz on the Iowa running back situation:

"We've got Adam, and anyone else that wants to volunteer."

So there's that.  Of course, aiding the situation will be the fact that Adam and whatever volunteer they pick out of the stands will be going against a Michigan run defense currently ranked 54th in the nation - just barely in the top half of all teams.  Michigan, however, might be making some changes in personnel as the long awaited debut of Kenny Demens seems to finally be neigh:

Rodriguez said he expects to see Kenny Demens, J.B. Fitzgerald and Mark Moundros in the mix a bit more against the Hawkeyes.

"Particularly if they have a good week in practice," Rodriguez said. "Kenny Demens in particular has had some real good practices and has shown some pretty good things when he's had an opportunity out there. So it looks like they've warranted the opportunity to see what they can do in the game."

FWIW, Rodriguez also confronted GERG about not playing enough linebackers in the loss to MSU last week.  If Demens can at least be a big old neutral out there, it will be a step up for this linebacking corp that has been negative nearly every week outside of some nice plays by Jonas Mouton.

On the receiving end of the Hawkeye attack are two wideouts that will likely victimize the Michigan secondary often.  First is Marvin McNutt, a 6'4" Junior averaging around 50 yards per game.  Opposite McNutt is Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (DJK), a 6'1" Senior averaging 67 yards per game.  DJK is 5th in the conference in receiving yards per game.  While these two, combined with "I don't quite believe it yet" Ricky Stanzi, wouldn't normally strike fear into the opposition's heart, Michigan brings a passing defense currently ranked 119th in passing defense - good enough dead last nationally if not for Tulsa.  THAT'S RIGHT TULSA WE OWN YOU.  These two outside threats combine nicely with Senior Tight End Alan Reisner, who has 17 receptions on the year and averages 42 yards per game. 

The key, once again, will be pressure, and how much of it Michigan can exert on Ricky Stanzi.  I'm confident that Michigan can stop the Iowa ground attack, or at least fix the errors that led to the long runs by Michigan State.  I am less confident that Iowa will even need to put it on the ground.  Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergan need to get that pressure up the middle if Michigan is going to have a shot at stopping the Iowa passing game.  We all know, even the most dreadful Iowa homer, that Ricky Stanzi has some INT's left in that arm.  It'd be great if we could force him into some bad throws, and maybe give our offense a short field.  Protection up front has been decent for Stanzi - Iowa thus far have allowed 10 sacks in 5 games.  Here's hoping.

Defense

Just as Michigan hangs its hat on offense, Iowa's calling card is defense:

Defense
Yards/Points Allowed per Game
National Rank
Scoring Defense
10.2
1
Total Defense
242.2
4
Rushing Defense
63.2
2
Passing Defense
179
28
we
are gonna
die

 

Maybe, mysterious chart editor.  But maybe not.  As posted before, these numbers, gaudy though they are, have come against competition that might just flat out suck offensively.  Michigan enters this matchup with offensive numbers just as gaudy:

Michigan Offense
Yards/Points per Game
National Rank
Scoring Offense
37.5
14
Total Offense
533.7
3
Rushing Offense
297.3
6
Passing Offense
236.3
37

 

Talk about a showdown.  The most exploitable portion of that solid Iowa defense would be the passing game.  With Amari Spivey - arguably the best Iowa defensive back since Bob Sanders - gone to the NFL, Michigan may be able to pick on Sophomore corner Micah Hyde.  Opposite Hyde, Kyle Prater, a Junior from Nebraska looks to shut down his side of the field.  Also roaming the secondary is Tyler Sash who absolutely put on a show with INT's last season (Loud annoying music warning):

Yeah, so let's avoid that if possible.  One of the main reasons that the Iowa defense has been susceptible (in the way that being in the top quarter of all college passing defenses is "susceptible") to the pass is due to inexperience in the linebacking corp - an area that has had its share of injury concerns this year.

Troy Johnson is listed as the starting middle linebacker despite suffering a concussion against Penn State.  Troy is already the backup to Jeff Tarpinian who is not available after being injured in the Ball State game.  Backing up Troy is true-freshman James Morris.  The Hawkeyes cannot afford to lose anybody on that linebacking corp.  They've been able to insert a warm body into that position and survive so far, but they haven't faced a rushing attack like Michigan's yet.  Here's Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on whether they've got somebody who can simulate what Denard does in practice:

"No, not really. I mean, we're fooling around, but if we had somebody like that, we'd probably be running that same offense I guess."
Right then.  What Iowa will be relying on to stop Denard will be a front four that will likely be the best that Michigan faces until Ohio State later this year - and even then might give OSU a run for their money.  Anchoring that line is Adrian Clayborn.  The Senior defensive end is responsible for 1 sack, and 4.5 TFL's on the season.  The dude's stats don't pop out at you mostly because teams have simply stayed away from him  The last time he met Michigan he was seen doing this:
 
Let's avoid that this game, shall we? It was that hit that took Forcier out of the game and put it in a young Denard Robinson's hands; hands that promptly threw a game-ending INT.

It will be incumbent on the Michigan offensive line to handle the beef that Iowa brings up front. Iowa's defensive line averages 282 across the front four. The Michigan offensive line averages around 302 lbs. Iowa's front four are big and fast; with so much of Michigan's game relying on the center getting the scoop block across the guy next to him thus freeing up the guard into space, it will be matchup to watch. Molk is the smallest Michigan offensive linemen at 288 lbs, and he will be asked upon to stand up to defensive linemen just as big, and just as fast. The center is the lynch pin in the offensive line scheme, as we found out last year when Molk went down. This front four of Iowa will be the strongest that Michigan has faced to date. Last week, as the UFR showed, Michigan was one block away on several occasions. They will have to execute better if they want to move the ball on this Iowa defense; they're not going to give us second chances.

Special Teams

Would it be greedy to ask Dileo to get us some good field position? In all seriousness, forcing Iowa into long-ish drives will increase the likelihood that Stanzi makes a mistake, or we get a fortuitous sack or something. It's bad when your best defense is "hope the other dude screws up" but welcome to Michigan Defense 2010. You take what you can get.

Final Prediction

For the first time this season, I'm picking a Michigan loss. I don't think that the Michigan Offensive line is going to be able to get the push necessary to get the ground game really rolling. That puts the game in Denard's throwing arm, and I'm just not sure that it's developed enough to win a game. It will be, but as Rodriguez likes to point out, the kid is basically a redshirt Freshman. I will say that if Denard's throwing is "on" and he's forcing Iowa to keep 2 high safeties to defend it, it's going to open up some running lanes. I can't imagine a scenario that has Iowa not scoring at least 35. Let's peg it here: 38-28 Iowa. Stanzi throws 2 picks, Denard returns the favor, Denard is held under 100 yards, Michigan gets a special teams TD, Demens sees significant time and actually isn't bad.

Key Matchups

Molk vs. Scoop Blocking: If Molk is consistently getting his blocks and sealing guys, Denard and company could have a big day.

Micah Hyde vs. Denard's Arm: I would imagine that Michigan is going to want to stay away from Prater's side of the field. You could probably just as easily put "Iowa Secondary" in there, I suppose. Just don't throw picks, Denard. Please?

Stanzi vs. The Crushing Inevitability of the Return of the Stanzi-Ball: Please?

Gametime Drink of Choice

I'm going to be at a wedding on Saturday, meaning at the time of kickoff I'll be handing out programs. Is there a weaker position in a wedding than "Hander Outer of Programs?" It is just important enough to have to, you know, go to the ceremony, but not important enough to have any tangential benefits. I don't even get to sit at the head table, meaning that I'm going to have to wait to be dismissed before getting my food. There is no way that I'm going to be able to see this game, or even surreptitiously check my blackberry. Nope. I'll be handing out programs. You'd better believe I'm hitting the open bar. Hard. Recommendations of best drinks at a wedding are welcome - I'll do my best to try them all; doubly so if Michigan loses.

Alternate Programming

Actually, in this case, I'm going to recommend Nebraska vs. Texas. I'd be really looking forward to this game, if I weren't at a wedding. Which I will be.

Inanimate Object Threat Level

What am I going to do? Throw the hymnal at the bride? YOU BET I AM.

Recommended for Survival

I'm replacing this with a quick word on Vincent Smith. I have no idea if this is the case, but I - like nearly everyone else - am a little confused as to why we're seeing Smith in situations that would call for Hopkins or Cox. Shaw is a little dinged, and I get that; he's the clear #1 guy when he's healthy, but why so much Smith? My guess is that he doesn't fumble, and he's picked up the blocking schemes and executes them well. What he gives in blocking for Denard might make up for what he lacks in top-end speed, or "pile moving" ability. Just a thought.

Elsewhere




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