It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve seen this season from the Wolverines, but Michigan did get the win on Saturday night over Iowa. With the win, Michigan secured its third consecutive Big Ten Championship and very likely punched another ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Here’s who we think made the biggest contributions in the victory, and proved worthy of a game ball.
Against a suffocating defense like Iowa’s, points and field position are at a premium. Semaj Morgan got that message in this game, and provided undoubtedly Michigan’s most impactful play. In Morgan’s first action as a punt returner this year, he returned a punt 87 yards to the Iowa five-yard line, which helped set up an easy Blake Corum touchdown to make the score 10-0.
Morgan has provided a spark for the offense consistently this season, but before Saturday we’d only seen some flashes of his ability on special teams. Jake Thaw and Tyler Morris have split reps at punt returner this year and haven’t made a huge impact. Maybe more reps in this position for Morgan in the playoff can be a real game changer for Michigan.
With Will Johnson sidelined, we knew it would be important for Mike Sainristil and the rest of the secondary to hold things down. Sainristil did his job, along with the rest of the secondary, to shut Iowa down through the air. He also nearly collected his sixth interception on a diving pass breakup in the second quarter.
While it didn’t take much for Sainristil to hold things down in coverage, he was still able to make a sizable impact. He did so in the second quarter by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Kris Jenkins. That fumble was huge at the time, considering it came on a drive that started at Michigan’s own 38-yard line, preventing a possible scoring chance for Iowa. He also forced another fumble later in the game, putting an exclamation point on a stellar evening.
With the emergence of Roman Wilson and Colston Loveland as pass catchers, Cornelius Johnson has been somewhat overlooked this season. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, though, as the senior served as Michigan’s leading receiver, securing nine receptions for 64 yards.
It’s been a quiet year for Johnson, as he entered Saturday’s game with only 33 receptions for 503 yards and one touchdown, but he was certainly helpful in Saturday’s game. Johnson consistently found soft spots in Iowa’s zone defense and represented a good target for J.J. McCarthy when the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. His impact as a blocker can’t be overlooked either, as he’s been solid in the run game all year long.
It would only be fitting if a punter got a game ball in this one. While he hasn’t gotten much attention this year (and for good reason), Tommy Doman has been a great asset for the Wolverines all year, and was once again in this game. Doman punted the ball six times for an average of 42.3 yards per punt.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Doman sneakily was a candidate to play a big role, as the hapless Iowa offense would undoubtedly struggle if it was given consistent bad field position. Doman provided plenty of bad field positions for Iowa in this game, consistently pinning the offense deep. Late in the season, Michigan’s offense hasn’t been quite the as effective as fans have hoped, so it’s nice for Michigan to have Doman in its back pocket to help flip the field.