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Michigan and Iowa face off in the last game of the season at the Big House, the final game of Denard Robinson's and Jordan Kovac's career, and another must win to keep the slim hope of a Big Ten title alive.
Michigan vs. Iowa
Enemy Blog: Black Heart Gold Pants
The first couple years of Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan have largely been about streaks -- or more appropriately ending them. Michigan broke its bowl loss streak, got its first BSC bowl in over a decade, beat Michigan State after four years, and Ohio State after seven. Other than the lack of a Big Ten title, Michigan has pretty much beaten back all of the ghosts that still roam Schembechler Hall after the Rich Rodriguez years.
At least, outside of the loss streak to Iowa.
Michigan's loss streak against Iowa isn't all that long -- just three games -- or even all that notable outside of Iowa City or Ann Arbor, but if you're looking for milestones to celebrate, this wouldn't be a bad one to enjoy.
Michigan got the year off against Iowa back in 2007 and 2008, but from 2009 on it was all pain. The Wolverines lost a close one to the highly regarded Hawkeyes who were en route to a high ranking of number four and an Orange Bowl appearance. Michigan, which lost seven games in a row against real opponents (sorry, Delaware State), still kept pace with Iowa for the most part, despite a disappointing performance from gunslinger Tate Forcier. By the end of it, Denard Robinson -- still just a raw freshman -- got the keys to the offense as Michigan's upset bid failed late.
The 2010 game was the opposite for the quarterback situation. Denard Robinson started the game but was held out the second half, letting Tate Forcier moxie Michigan to within a few points of the upset. Yet, the story of Michigan's season -- turrible defense -- would be the story of the game yet again.
Last year Michigan failed again, this time as Al Borges reverted to his lizard brain (shoutout to MGoBlog for that) and went all in with the I-form. Michigan's bumbled two minute drill almost came up aces, if not for two controversial calls (well, one was a no-call).
This year's Iowa squad doesn't strike the fear of god into me like the past incarnations of the Hawkeye squad, but it will be comforting if Michigan can finally beat Iowa and kill off the last of Michigan's streaks.
When Michigan has the ball
It doesn't seem like Denard Robinson is going to be ready for this one, and as sad as that is, Michigan seems to be in a pretty solid place when it comes to the quarterback position. Devin Gardner has stepped up nicely into the starting role against two mediocre to bad defenses. Iowa may or may not be better than that level of competition.
The Hawkeye pass defense is pretty solidly average. Pass efficiency defense for the Hawkeyes sits at 59th nationally, while the Hawkeyes give up 225 pass yards per game (50th in the nation). These are better numbers than Northwestern and worse than Minnesota, but it wouldn't be surprising if this is the most competent secondary that Gardner will face so far in his young starting career -- although that isn't saying much. Micah Hyde is certainly more talented than anything either of those teams were trotting out. This also might not be the case as the Hawkeyes have imploded the last couple weeks against the pass. Indiana put up 406 yards and Purdue put up 279 in back to back embarrassments.
So yeah, the Iowa pass defense might not be all that good. Still, Minnesota and Northwestern, yo.
Although, Michigan will probably have to rely heavily on the pass once again as Iowa has an average rush defense ("no" exclaims Al Borges, "my only weakness" /melts....or something). Michigan's run game has been, um, there I guess these last two weeks. Without Denard Robinson, Michigan has failed to consistently move the ball on the ground. Expect more of the same.
Iowa will most likely be able to hold Michigan to around 3-4 ypc and bottle up most of the big plays. This will put more pressure on the passing game.
For all my groaning about Michigan's offense without Robinson, it has still managed 35 and 38 points without anything resembling a reliable run game. A lot of this has been predicated on big plays in the passing game. If Gardner can continue to stretch the field with good throws, and his receivers can continue to do the kind of things that make quarterbacks look good, Michigan's offense should be fine. If not...well it might not matter all that much anyway, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Advantage: Lean Michigan
When Iowa has the ball
I'm not going to waste a whole lot of time here. Iowa's offense is baaaaaaaad. Like Illinois/Michigan State level bad.
Nationally, Iowa's highest rank in the four major offensive categories is 94th. That is pass offense thanks to a whopping 197 yards per game*. The Hawkeyes sit in the bottom three in the Big Ten in the other three categories (rush yards, total offense, and scoring offense).
*(This is also good for 6th in the Big Ten, which just about sums up how truly awful the conference is this year.)
The reason why? If you guessed, "hiring Greg Davis," then congrats, you win the same feeling of satisfaction that Texas fans got when the Longhorns got rid of Davis in the first place. Of course Kirk Ferentz -- lover of vanilla offenses of all shapes and sizes -- snatched up Davis before the former national championship winning coordinator (Vince Young + mediocre offensive scheme = still Vince Young, idiot) got snatched up before some scrappy inner city pee wee team somewhere snatched up the old coach, leading to those hard to reach yet lovable youngsters teaching him a new way to look at football while learning lessons about life from him, eventually culminating in some sappy Disney movie. That offense would probably be about as effective against Big Ten defenses as Iowa's present unit is, but thankfully without a place for Brian Dennehy or whoever would end up with the leading role.
James Vandenberg went from being one of the best pocket passers in the conference (remember: Big Ten) to ranking 100th in the nation in pass efficiency. He is just shy of 2000 yards, but the story of Iowa's offense is in how ineffectual the pass offense has been in putting up those numbers. Just 5.8 yards per attempt, a 56 percent completion percentage, and just five touchdowns to six interceptions.
The run game doesn't provide much relief. When Iowa does field a healthy running back, that running back helps the Hawkeyes to a middling 3.75 ypc and 124 yards per game average as a team. Word is Mark Weisman might be back for this one. Still, Michigan has all but shut down everyone that doesn't run a variation of the option (or isn't Alabama). Iowa is neither. Hell, it's barely an offense.
Michigan's defense should go back to its 300 yards allowed, slowly choke all signs of life out of the game form from most of the season. Iowa doesn't look like much of a threat to test Michigan's defense unless someone tells Greg Davis he can call plays that involve throws more than five yards down the field.
Advantage: You're joking, right?
When someone is kicking the ball
Michigan continues to offset its steady kicking game with a terribly inconsistent return game.
Meanwhile, Iowa is averaging a hair over five yards per punt return and is in the bottom 20 nationally in net punting. But hey, Mike Meyer is 16 for 19 kicking field goals.
Michigan probably has the advantage here barring anything really strange.
- Michigan vs. running the damn ball: Seriously, just do it well, okay? Is that so hard?
- Devin Gardner vs. those "Y U DO THAT!?" throws into waiting defenders: Michigan almost lost its chance at a comeback last week when Gardner tossed one to a waiting safety. It would be nice to see Gardner get away from that habit so this 2013 hype train can really take off.
- Michigan's front seven vs. whoever Iowa finds to play running back: We are a year or so away from Iowa rolling out a sock puppet voiced by Kirk Ferentz at running back.
- Michigan's defense vs. our crushing expectations: This offense has moved past bad. It's woeful. Michigan should crush them. Let's all overreact if they don't, okay!?
Alternate Programming: Michigan State takes on Northwestern opposite of Michigan's noon game. The afternoon games feature the USC-UCLA matchup as well as Ohio State-Wisconsin. Save your energy for Oregon-Stanford at 8pm. Drink a lot to make the rest of the mediocre slate of games palatable.
Inanimate Object Threat Level - 2: The most frustrating part of this game? The flashbacks to Mike Debord calling three-yard routes on third-and-five.
Final Prediction: Iowa has fallen off a cliff as of late. The Hawkeyes have lost four in a row, needed two overtimes (and a tipped interception) to beat MSU, and lost to Central Michigan in the non-conference.
The Greg Davis experiment is going just about how everyone figured it would. The defense isn't terrible, but that isn't enough to win games when the offense is (see: Michigan 2008). This one really shouldn't be much of a challenge, especially when you consider it is a home game that doubles as senior day.
Still, Iowa is one of those teams that I worry about. Maybe it is the last three years of games talking, or the fact that Ferentz has traditionally done pretty well against Michigan, and with Ohio State the week after there is always the fear that Michigan gets caught looking ahead.
I don't think it will be all that close, but don't be surprised if this is a one score game at halftime. Something about Iowa, man.
Michigan 28 - Iowa 15