Game Eleven Preview: Michigan at Iowa

Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan travels to Iowa City to look for its first win in almost a decade in Kinnick Stadium.

Michigan vs. Iowa

Iowa City, IA |12:00 pm, BTN

Enemy Blog: BHGP

Michigan is out of the running for all of its main goals for the season. There will be no Big Ten championship game appearance and no trip to a BCS bowl. The one main goal left (beat Ohio State) looks less and less likely every day (but hey, rivalry game).

This hasn't been a great season for fan expectations. The offense has utterly failed more often than not, the defense has valiantly played sometimes up to 50 minutes of great football before the weight of the game kicked in, but has always kept Michigan within striking distance. There has been disappointment, and plenty to go around.

There has also been the Notre Dame game, last minute scrambles for the win against UConn and Akron, a four overtime PSU game, an offensive explosion against Indiana, and now the fire drill field goal. What I'm trying to say is that this team may not be very good, but it sure as hell has been entertaining for most of the year. Saturday is another shot at a win and another chance for this team to do something memorable.

When Michigan has the ball

POSITIVE RUSHING YARDS, YOU GUYS!

That's right. Much to everyone's surprise, Michigan managed to knock out positive rushing yards last week against Northwestern's not great but still corporeal defense. With the two freshman running backs leading the charge, Michigan managed a pretty respectable 27 carries for 120 yards and 4.4 yards/carry.

Fitzgerald Toussaint was on the bench all day long, and the offensive line had its struggles yet again (five sacks, ten TFLs allowed) but there were just enough wrinkles to get Michigan moving forward for the most part.

Against Iowa things should get tougher. The Hawkeyes have a very good trio of linebackers and should find ways to terrorize MIchigan's line the same ways that Nebraska and Michigan State did. The Hawkeyes are holding opponents to 3..72 yards/carry and that includes games against Wisconsin and Ohio State (two of the best rushing offenses in the country). Iowa has only allowed four rushing touchdowns all year, which is best in the Big Ten.

So this one will once again come down to how Michigan can pass — and more importantly, pass block. Iowa has a pretty solid pass defense by the numbers, as one of only three Big Ten teams allowing less than 200 yards through the air per game and just 6.1 yards/attempt (3rd).

Iowa doesn't look to be much of a threat to get into the backfield in normal games. Linebacker James Morris leads the way with four sacks on the season and behind him are eight guys (six DL) with 1.0 to 2.5 sacks on the season. Still, with the way Michigan is giving into pressure this year, it would be no surprise to see at least two of these players have a multiple sack game.

Outlook

So Michigan will need to find ways to keep Devin Gardner clean. Part of that will be providing a credible run threat — something that doesn't seem so far fetched this week — so that Iowa cannot dictate the flow of the game and bring pressure without worrying about over-extending the defense on a run. Another part is Michigan finding ways to pass the ball to help aleviate that pressure. Last week Michigan mixed in a few bubble screens and other short-ish routes that worked well. If Michigan can manage to do these things, it will open the offense up for the big passing plays that will be needed to make major moves in field position.

However, even if these things are working the odds are that Michigan's offense just doesn't do much. Last week the Wolverines didn't convert a third-down until overtime. This is still a fundamentally broken unit. It can piece together fleeting success, but if Michigan needs more than 20 points to win you can bet that things won't end well.

When Iowa has the ball

The Greg Davis offensive revival at Iowa used to be a joke, but this year it has proven to be something of a truth. Iowa hasn't been a great offense, but it has been good enough. A good example is the Ohio State game, in which Iowa ripped off three 60+ yard drives that totaled 36 plays and netted 17 points. That hot start put Iowa up at halftime and was enough to keep the game close.

Iowa's run game has been a steady hand in this offensive development. The Hawkeyes are averaging 4.5 yards/carry on the season. A pair of juniors lead the way with Mark Weisman (777 yards, 4.65 ypc) playing more as the power back and Damon Bullock (455 yards 4.21 ypc) as the outside the tackles threat. Even quarterback Jake Ruddock has 188 yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season. Iowa doesn't have much in the way of long run plays (80th nationally in plays of 10+ yards), but the Hawkeyes will look to grind out yards on the ground and should find some success.

Jake Ruddock has been a competent starter for Iowa at quarterback. While the Hawkeyes are 10th in the conference in yards/attempt, Iowa is still averaging over 200 yards per game through the air, and moving the ball better through the air than last year. Part of his success has been in spreading the ball around. Four Iowa receivers have between 200 and 304 yards (Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the way with 304) and four more have between 100 and 200.

Outlook

Michigan's defense has been very good at limiting big plays, forcing teams into long drives, and holding down scoring by forcing punts and field goals. Iowa's offense has spent the season just chugging along the field in much the same way.

The key here will be Michigan's rush defense slowing Iowa down and forcing the Hawkeyes into passing situations. Michigan's defense has been very good all year at holding down opposing rush offenses, and Iowa's isn't as much a fearsome unit as one that consistently gains yards. If Michigan can force Iowa into passing situations it will bring about more punts and fewer scoring drives.

When someone is kicking the ball

Senior kicker Mike Meyer has made 14 of 18 on the year while Brendan Gibbons continues to rattle field goals home. Aptly named Iowa punter Conner Kornbrath is averaging 40 yards per punt while Matt Wile has been better in the last few games. Iowa's advantage in field goals should cancel out Michigan's advantage in punting yardage unless Michigan allows a big return.

Other Stuff

Keys to the game:

- Keep it around three yards/carry. Defensively, Michigan needs to limit Iowa below what it is used to on the ground. Part of that will be stopping big plays, but another will be bottling things up quick with fast flowing linebackers.

- Set up and convert third downs. Michigan has been terrible at this so far this year, so there are few expectations that anything will change. However, last week's show of running skill could mean a small turnaround in overall production on the ground, therefore setting up easier third downs.

Alternate Programming: Michigan and Iowa kick things off Saturday, so when that game is over you can turn your attention to OSU-Indiana (I will be in attendance at that one thanks to SB Nation and the folks at Hampton Inns). Oregon-Arizona also play in the afternoon, as does TAMU-LSU. The night games include Arizona State-UCLA, Mizzou-Ole Miss, and Baylor-Oklahoma State.

Inanimate Object Threat Level - 6: This one is in a stadium Michigan hasn't won at in years against a team that isn't known for its big plays. It will be the kind of slow-building frustration that doesn't lead to broken objects.

Final Thoughts: I still don't trust this Michigan offense. Last week was nice to see but the blueprint still exists: bring pressure and stop this offense. Iowa will bring a better defense into this game as well as an offense built for a grind-it-out style game.

As much as I'd like Michigan to steal its first road win in years at Kinnick, this isn't the year it happens.

Iowa 20 - Michigan 13

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