The phrase “machine-like” has been used to describe the Michigan Wolverines this season, and the dismantling of Iowa shows just how apt that description is. It wasn’t sexy, but the Maize and Blue’s business-like approach propelled them to a convincing win at Kinnick.
Let’s hand out some grades,
Entering Saturday’s game, the biggest question surrounding this Michigan team was whether J.J. McCarthy could play a clean and efficient game. While his performance won’t put him on the Heisman watchlist, he passed with flying colors. Apart from fumble/backward pass, he did a superb job protecting the ball and consistently making the proper reads. Iowa never had a chance to settle in because of the versatility and maneuverability of Michigan’s man under center. Michigan fans should be very pleased with how mature and measured McCarthy comported himself against a stingy Iowa defense.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B+
Although McCarthy threw for 155 yards, Michigan’s leading receiver — tight end Luke Schoonmaker — only mustered 45 yards. On the bright side, this speaks to the depth of Michigan’s bevy of pass catchers and its ability to win without explosive plays.
However, the lower yardage total points to an inability for Michigan to bust the game open, and receivers on several occasions failed to stay on their feet. This might be nitpicky, given the conservative game plan the coaches cooked up, but pessimistic and optimistic fans alike can each take away something to fit their narrative.
Running Backs: A
Blake Corum continues to make his case to be in the Heisman conversation. To quote Gus Johnson, the “little big man” racked up 133 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, a remarkable feat against an Iowa defense that only surrendered an average of 2.21 yards per carry before this game.
Sweetening matters for the Mazie and Blue, Corum wasn’t the only running back who competed at a high level. Donovan Edwards put up an impressive return showing, making his presence felt both on the ground and in the passing game. In addition to his nearly six yards per run, Edwards hauled in four catches, including a pivotal touchdown to make it 20-0. The “punch and jab” combo between Corum and Edwards provides Michigan with both versatility and efficiency needed in the colder days ahead.
Offensive Line: A
The linemen made it possible for McCarthy and the running backs to methodically dismantle the vaunted Iowa defense. Only surrendering one sack and three tackles for loss, the line was the linchpin to Michigan’s domination of Iowa.
Front Seven: A
Grumblings about the lack of physicality on the defensive front must have trickled through to the desk of Mike Elston over the last week, because Michigan’s defensive front came ready to play. Including the four sacks, Michigan held Iowa to a paltry 1.5 yards per tote and generated six tackles for loss. Heading into the game, my greatest concern was with being able to stop the run. Not only did they ace that, but they also responded emphatically to questions regarding their ability to get to the quarterback.
Mike Morris, Eyabi Okie and Mason Graham established themselves as the leaders of this often-maligned group. This performance bodes well for future matchups with top-tier offensive lines.
There was a lot to like about the Michigan defense, but one area of concern that emerged was allowing chunk plays on passes to tight ends. Granted, Iowa features one of the deepest and most talented fleets of tight ends in America, but surrendering nearly 250 yards to Spencer Petras is by no means an outstanding day at the office. The corners, however, had a fantastic day in practically preventing the Hawkeye receivers from entering the game in any appreciable way. Overall, this was a pretty good performance.
Special Teams: A
If punting is winning, this grade would be much, much lower than it is. But luckily, football is won by scoring points, not kicking punts. A.J. Henning, while not flashy, did a great job of neutralizing whatever semblance of an advantage Iowa thinks it gains by punting. Michigan rarely played with its back to the wall, thanks to Henning getting upfield. When the Wolverines did have to punt, Brad Robbins did what he had to do to force Iowa to mount extended drives. Jake Moody is solid as ever.
Going forward, I’ll be including this category on my report cards because of how crucial attitude and posture are to success in the game of football. This grade incorporates coaching, player conduct and intangibles (such as swagger and handling crowd hostility). Michigan acted like a championship team on the field. “Bringing” Kinnick’s infamous pink locker room onto the field in the form of pink towels, heartily enthusiastically participating in “the wave” and limiting penalties, the Wolverines embraced the hostility and challenges that sink lesser teams when they travel to Kinnick. The coaches also concocted a brilliant game plan that stifled Iowa’s ability to play their brand of football. Does Michigan still have its 2021 swagger? For the moment, it appears they do.
Are these grades fair? Let us know below!