When Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke about the upcoming matchup with Iowa, he expressed a profound respect for their team and program. Harbaugh went as far to say that he expects a “knock down, drag out type of affair,” this Saturday.
Tuesday, when Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz spoke to the media, he echoed similar sentiments about the Wolverines.
“Tough challenge, traditionally they have been one of the best teams in the country and might as well say best in the country,” Ferentz said. “Really, really impressive team, certainly well coached.”
Despite the Hawkeyes having an outstanding home record against top-five teams under Ferentz, the experienced Iowa head coach appreciates the challenge this Michigan team presents this weekend: “It will take our best team effort to have a chance in this one.”
While the easy storyline to draw entering this matchup is Big Ten Championship revenge for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz is not seeing it that way — despite having the game on a few of the televisions throughout the facility.
“No treating it like a revenge game. Looking forward, not backward,” he said.
Iowa is 5-3 in its last eight home games against top-five opponents under Ferentz, including having won five of the last six. In these games, Ferentz stressed, “Every play is like an NFL playoff game,” and that this has been a driving factor behind their success against top caliber opponents.
When discussing the team in all three phases, Ferentz expressed: “It’s hard to find a weakness and it’s easy to find a lot of depth.” He listed the experience on special teams first, almost subconsciously stating the importance of field position for Saturday’s game.
When discussing key Michigan players, Ferentz was asked about quarterback J.J. McCarthy and defensive tackle Mazi Smith in particular. Regarding McCarthy, Ferentz was very complementary stating: “You might argue they’re better (than last year).”
When it comes to Smith, Ferentz was almost speechless at times, gushing about Michigan’s interior man.
“Looks like a refrigerator except he can move,” Ferentz said.
And after several laughs about the challenge Smith creates with his size and athleticism, Ferentz quipped, “All you can do is rely on your technique.”
Iowa is the No. 1 scoring defense in the country (5.8) and sometimes handles the offense for the Hawkeyes as well, having outscored their offensive unit in two of their four games this season. Both teams enter this game undefeated in conference play and for it to stay that way for either team, it is going to take a disciplined, mistake-free effort on Saturday.