The Michigan Wolverines are Big Ten Champions for the third year in a row, grinding out a 26-0 win over No. 16 Iowa on Saturday night. It was not the prettiest display, with the Wolverines up just 10-0 heading into halftime, but the game never felt in doubt, even if it was tough sledding on offense.
Michigan was forced to punt after a couple first downs to open the third quarter, and Tommy Doman pinned the Hawkeyes deep. The defense blitzed on second down, knocking the ball out of Deacon Hill’s hands and straight into the air, nearly brought in by Kenneth Grant. While initially called an incompletion, a review changed it to a fumble, leading to the dagger.
The play: Play through the whistle
This play has plenty of controversy, both with Hill’s arm moving forward and the refs signaling the play dead when the ball hit the ground. However, it was very clear that Josh Wallace cleanly recovered the fumble, regardless of the initial call. There is no conspiracy here; this is literally how the rules work.
Was this a fumble or incomplete? pic.twitter.com/tlBiT4WrI9— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 3, 2023
Credit to Mike Sainristil for getting to the ball. Sainristil was playing a different role on Saturday with Will Johnson out, but his blitzing continues to be impactful. Instead of just laying into Hill, he smartly makes a play on the ball, and notching his second forced fumble of the evening.
The impact: We-fense
The truth is, Michigan really struggled to move the ball down the field. The Iowa defense is no joke and the offense’s ability to sustain long drives was not looking that reliable. This turnover and the long Semaj Morgan punt return were exactly what the Wolverines needed, though, and they set up a pair of easy touchdowns.
Just like Johnson’s early pick of Kyle McCord last weekend, Michigan capitalized on the excellent field position following the takeaway. This one was special as it gave Blake Corum his second of the night, tying the school record for career rushing touchdowns. Even though the Hawkeyes were tough on the ground all game, Corum did what he always does and fought through the bodies to get into the end zone.
The bigger picture: Complementary football
As good as Michigan teams have been during the past few seasons, the 2023 squad really stands out when it comes to takeaways. The defense ranks in the top 20 in turnovers — while the offense is top five in protecting the ball — and no team has more pick-sixes than the Wolverines this season.
When seeking a national championship, every little factor matters. Turnovers can feel random at times, but the defense consistently causes havoc and sets up the offense with great field position (if they do not find the end zone themselves). The Big Ten Championship Game was another example of how this team is just firing on all cylinders this season.