(Previously: Nebraska, Northwestern)
Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2) November 23rd, Kinnick Stadium
Season To Date
Wins of negligable importance:: vs. Southwest Missouri State 28-14, at Iowa State 27-21, vs. Western Michigan 59-3,
Big Ten Wins: at. Minnesota 23-7, vs. Northwestern 17-10 (OT) - Iowa doesn't have much in the way of really impressive wins this season, but against these two Legends division foes, the Hawkeyes took care of business, bottling up both offenses (Minnesota managed just 165 yards, Nortwestern 329) and moving the ball with balance and winning the turnover battle.
Loss that looks better now: vs. Northern Illinois 30-27 - So apparently Northern Illinois is pretty good this year, laying waste to the MAC and beating the doors off Purdue. Iowa played NIU close and lost on a last second field goal. C'est la vie.
Loss that looked good then: at Ohio State 34-24 - With Ohio State running everyone else out of the building, Iowa wasn't supposed to be much of a challenge. Instead, the Hawkeyes put together three straight scoring drives over 65 yards to open the game. Ohio State tightened up from there, but a big play in the third quarter tied the game. Both teams ended with eight meaningful possessions, which allowed Iowa to play the Buckeyes tighter.
Other loss: vs. Michigan State 26-14 - Iowa couldn't run the ball and MSU could. That was basically the game.
AIRBHG hasn't yet found out where Mark Weisman lives, because the junior isn't yet fighting off clouds of locusts everywhere he goes. He has been the primary back, with 18 carries a game for 90 yards per. Damon Bullock is getting about half the work with half the production. Both are more workhorse than big play threat, but between them Iowa has cobbled together a solid run game.
The offense has taken a step forward this year thanks to the increased effectiveness of Jake Rudock at quarterback. He has 12 TDs to 8 INTs after eight games, and while his 6.9 yards/attempt and 61% completion percentage aren't world beaters, both are better numbers than James Vandenberg managed last year. Iowa is also getting more big plays, having already doubled the number of passes over 40 yards this season (seven compared to three).
Defensively, Iowa is led by a trio of very good linebackers. Anthony Hitchens leads the team in both tackles and tackles for loss while James Morris is second in both categories while leading the team in sacks. Christian Kirksey rounds out the top three in tackles and also has an interception.
Outlook vs. Michigan
Last year's result skews the reality of the situation: Michigan usually struggles with Iowa, especially in Iowa City. Michigan hasn't won in Iowa City since an overtime win in 2005. The last time Michigan went into Iowa the Wolverines lost an ugly game in the final seconds after spending most of the game running from under center.
This year Michigan's offense is a lot like that 2011 offense. It works best from the shotgun, is led by a turnover prone quarterback, and will probably spend a great deal of time in pro-style sets for no discernible reason. If Michigan opens things up against Iowa it should be able to move the ball. If Michigan tries to run an offense it is ill-suited for, Iowa can bottle that up quick.
As for Michigan's defense in this one, Iowa is a middle of the pack Big Ten offense that is accustomed to long, plodding drives. Iowa is second in the conference in third-down conversion percentage, and the Hawkeyes have the 14th best average third-down distance in the nation. While the Hawkeye offense isn't scary in the way Nebraska or Ohio State are, the unnerving consistency with which Iowa has been able to move the ball could be worrisome. If Iowa can convert long drives and limit possessions much like it did against Ohio State, Michigan's high risk, high reward offense could be in trouble if turnovers become an issue.
Early Advantage: Iowa
If this one was at home, I'd give Michigan the nod, but Iowa City has not been an easy place for Michigan to win in the past, and the game comes right before the Ohio State game.. Iowa's offensive style could give Michigan's defense trouble, while Iowa's defense is good enough to not allow Michigan to do what it wants (run from pro sets). It should be a close game, but Michigan's offensive inconsistency looks likely to hold it back in a game where limited possessions make scoring (and avoiding turnovers) even more important.