December 2nd, 2021 seems like a long time ago. In football years, it feels like an eternity.
Michigan beat Iowa 42-3 to win the Big Ten Championship on that winter day in Indianapolis, and now a rematch is on tap Saturday afternoon.
This time the game will be at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City — a place where Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned a phrase fans use — Kinnick Stadium is a place where “top-five teams go to die”.
It’s far too early in the year to suffer that kind of fate, but it won’t be easy sledding.
While Iowa’s offense has been anemic to this point in the season, ranking 131st in total offense, Iowa’s defense has been outstanding, and why the team is 3-1. The Hawkeyes defense ranks 6th in total defense and 1st in scoring defense.
“Everybody knows what to do. Everybody’s playing the proper leverage, the proper technique, the proper fundamentals at all times,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “Opportunistic. The challenges that it presents are if you are inaccurate where the throw, overthrow, underthrow, tip ball, it’s highly likely that it’s going to result in a turnover. If you’re not as sound as you can possibly be, then you’re in for a rough one.”
Harbaugh called Iowa’s defense a scheme that “is flawless”.
“Everybody’s where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, playing the techniques, they’re supposed to be there. The challenge is that makes you on offense be really tight. Not the time to lighten up. It’s the time to tighten up in every aspect of our offensive technique and fundamentals, alignments, and assignments.”
Iowa’s defense has had to play nearly shutout football on D with their offense scuffling. The 3-1 Hawkeyes have given up just 5.8 points-per-game through the first four weeks of the season. When speaking with the media on Wednesday, co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss made it clear he believes Iowa has NFL talent and are coached well.
“The Iowa defense is a huge challenge for any team, any offense to face. There’s a reason why they’re number one in the country in a lot of areas. They play with unbelievable fundamentals, they’re sound, they communicate really well.”
Weiss called cornerback Cooper DeJean an elite player and named a handful of other players who will be playing on Sundays in the future.
“I think it’s a misconception about Iowa, too, that they maybe are kind of like a bunch of no-name players. Riley Moss will be drafted, Jack Campbell will be drafted. Noah Shannon, John Wagner, these guys are gonna play in the NFL. This isn’t a bunch of no-names. They have really good players, they have really good scheme. They know what they’re doing, they play hard. Just nothing but the utmost respect for what they do and how they do it. It’s a huge challenge for us.”
It will be a challenge for Michigan, but it’s a challenge for the Hawkeyes as well, something head coach Kirk Ferentz is well aware of. There’s no hiding around they were destroyed last year by Michigan on a big stage. Even so, the old-school Ferentz isn’t worried about revenge, he’s concerned about what he can coach.
“The first thing you have to do is just keep it close and make sure every play is sound, and if they’re going to get something, make them really work and earn it, and we didn’t do that necessarily last year,” Ferentz said. “If somebody has motivation that comes out of that, I think we all want to do better, needless to say. But it’s not as simple as hey, let’s go get these guys. I wish it was.”
The atmosphere will be fantastic in Iowa City. Michigan knows what they’re getting themselves into. They know this has ‘trap game’ written all over it. Iowa will attempt to run the ball down Michigan’s throat, generate a couple of turnovers on defense, and win a low-scoring affair. There really isn’t anything one team doesn’t know about the other — it’ll boil down to personnel and execution on both sides of the ball.
“They’re going to give us everything they got. They’re going to give us intensity, they’re going to give us violence, they’re going to play with good form on offense,” Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. “It’s going to be a dogfight, and they’re going to see how long we can hold out, they’re going to try to run the ball on us. It’s just a question of honing down, playing our defense and stepping up to the challenge. Can’t sleep on them.”