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No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes Preview: Let the confetti fall

Indianapolis is becoming Ann Arbor South.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

It is difficult to remember how different things felt heading into December 4, 2021. The Michigan Wolverines finally got past Ohio State and earned their first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. Though favored over the Iowa Hawkeyes, it was unclear how this team would respond in its first conference championship appearance after the hugely emotional win the week before.

Against the staunch Iowa defense, it took just two back-to-back offensive plays to officially cement the new era of Michigan football. The first was a 67-yard touchdown run by backup running back Blake Corum, with depth-chart-blocked quarterback J.J. McCarthy famously sprinting ahead of him down the sideline. The next was a trick play: an absolute bomb by third-stringer Donovan Edwards to Roman Wilson for 75 yards, making it consecutive explosive touchdowns against a team notorious for not allowing much of anything.

Those four players were on the peripheral during that season, but in the two years since have become absolutely foundational. All four have mountains of highlights (including plenty from last weekend alone) and will never be forgotten in Ann Arbor, as their contributions helped change this program in the most significant of ways.

It is fitting to return to Indianapolis to face this same Hawkeyes team. The situation is awfully familiar, needing a win to secure a College Football Playoff berth against an overmatched, defensively oriented Iowa. The context could not be more different, however; Michigan in 2023 is not the Michigan of 2021, but there could not be this version without that foundation.

No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (12-0, 9-0) vs. No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2, 7-2)

Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. ET
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: FOX

Offense: Bet

This is certainly the more interesting half of the matchup. Iowa has the No. 1 defense per SP+, with Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State rounding out the top four. While this probably speaks to the lack of offense across the conference, the Hawkeyes are not accustomed to giving up many points (aside from 31 to Drew Allar and Penn State...).

There have been some tough defensive matchups this season, but the Wolverines did put up 24 on the Nittany Lions and 30 against the Buckeyes, the two best comparisons to the Hawkeyes. Given the struggles of the Iowa offense, it will not require even that many points to win a third-straight title. I expect Michigan to find some decent success, even if it looks like another conservative, grind-it-out approach.

McCarthy should not need to run the ball, but like last weekend, he will need to hit some throws across the middle and in some tighter windows. As long as he makes good decisions the Wolverines will be fine, and it does feel like Maryland was just an off week, which is understandable given the circumstances. The Hawkeyes do not generate a ton of interceptions for how good the defense is, and star defensive back Cooper DeJean is still out injured.

With a strategic passing approach, all of this sets up for a big Corum game. Michigan will want to get as many reps as possible for the post-Zak Zinter offensive line, and remember that Corum only has seven Big Ten Championship Game touches in his career. Perhaps this is a chance for Donovan Edwards to get some work in too, though it will be tough sledding against a top-10 run defense.

Overall, I think Michigan is going to be able to sustain enough drives to be more than comfortable. The Iowa defense is going to be on the field for long periods of time, and the Wolverines are built to wear down an opponent like this. The only reason this game may not be a blowout is Michigan wanting to keep it bland and also stay healthy, but with Jim Harbaugh back there might be some fireworks as well.

Defense: Lol

SP+ ranks the Iowa offense 124th in the country — this is slightly higher than East Carolina and just a couple spots below Michigan State and Nebraska. This could probably be the end of this section right here. The Hawkeyes have crossed 20 points just once in the last six weeks, averaging about a touchdown per game in these contests.

Meanwhile, Michigan has allowed virtually nothing outside of garbage time against these types of offenses. It would honestly be a shocker to see Iowa find the end zone even once. Iowa is outside the top 100 in yards per carry and rushing yards per game and dead last in passing yards per attempt and bottom-five in passing yards per game. This is close to the worst offense the Wolverines have seen all season.

Maybe if Cade McNamara was available it would be a little different, though he was not exactly lighting it up before going out. With Erick All somehow injured too, there is no revenge game narrative to try to counteract any sort of imbalance. Last time these teams met saw the Hawkeyes score 14 thanks to a touchdown with eight seconds left in Iowa City; the odds of that repeating itself this weekend are nearly zero.

Deacon Hill has taken over the quarterback position and completed fewer than half of his passes for just 4.9 yards per attempt, worst in the nation among starting quarterbacks. He is very slow and offers no real running threat. Leshon Williams and Kaleb Johnson split the carries but have just four combined rushing touchdowns between them. All is still the team’s leading receiver; he has not played since October 14.

It is always a tough proposition to expect a shutout, but at worst is should be a 50/50; DraftKings literally set the opening Iowa points total for each half at 0.5. Maybe it takes Michigan a little time to pull away on the scoreboard, but I cannot imagine anything Iowa does on offense causing any true frustration. There will probably be a couple eye-roll moments, but at the end of the day expect to see fan favorite Tory Taylor punting early and often.

Playful respect

No offense to Iowa, but this game is not about Iowa. The Wolverines are favored by more than three touchdowns, and while the Hawkeyes have become a walking meme due to Brian Ferentz and historic over/unders, that voodoo is unlikely to play a factor here. Michigan is better at the things that make Iowa special, and the gap in talent when the Hawkeyes have the ball is unbelievable.

Instead, this game should feel like a celebration. Harbaugh is back and the team has a chance to make a definitive statement in front of Tony Pettiti and the Big Ten. It might not require a bunch of trick plays or exotic defensive fronts, but there is no way that the Wolverines are not going to bring their A-game to stick it to their oppressors.

This is nothing personal, Iowa. The Hawkeyes get to see out the Big Ten West and all publicity is good publicity, right? But Michigan has its sight set on something higher, and this weekend is just another step on the way to that goal. This is a primetime slot with a championship trophy on the line, but there is no sort of suspense on Saturday night.