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Michigan vs. Iowa Preview

November 4, 2011
 
 
 
Quote That Most Represents This Game
“Every day I fight a war against the mirror,
I can’t take the person staring back at me, I’m a hazard to myself…
Don’t let me get me,
I’m my own worst enemy…”
— Pink, song “Don’t Let Me Get Me”

 

Names To Know
1. Marvin McNutt (WR #7) — McNutt is the exact type of receiver Michigan has had problems with all season.  He’s a 6’4″, 215-pound senior who has already matched his junior year totals even though Iowa has 4 games remaining.  Iowa has never been known to be an explosive offense, but they do have big play ability with McNutt having 9 touchdowns through 8 games, including an 88-yarder.  The numbers are a bit misleading since he didn’t get a touchdown against the top teams Iowa has played this year (Penn State, Pitt, and Iowa State), but has dominated opponents like Indiana (3 TDs), Louisiana-Monroe (2 TDs), and Tennessee Tech ( 2 TDs) to pad his stats.
2. Marcus Coker (RB #34) —  Similar to McNutt, Marcus Coker is the exact type of running back Michigan has struggled with the past few seasons.  He’s a bowling-ball running listed at 6’1″ 230lbs and has almost hit the 1000-yard mark already this season.  He also failed to score a touchdown against Penn State and Pitt, but has had 100+ yards and 2 TDs each of the last three games for the Hawkeyes, including a monster 252 yards last week in a loss to Minnesota.  Michigan State’s backs were able to get a lot of yards against Michigan, and Coker could cause the same problems this week.
3. Micah Hyde (CB #18) — The Iowa defense has not been great this season, and it is going to rely a lot on Hyde this week to shut down the Michigan receivers to allow more men in the box.  Hyde was a playmaker last year as a sophomore having multiple interceptions returned for touchdowns, so we will not likely see Michigan test his side of the field on Saturday.

Offensive Strength
 Iowa’s strength is that they have a very balanced offense where you can’t key to stop the run or pass, or any individual players.  Quarterback James Vandenberg has 17 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions, Marvin McNutt has 9 touchdowns receiving, and Marcus Coker has 10 touchdowns rushing.  They will see what works in any specific game and continually go to it until their opponent shows they can stop it.  Michigan will be in for a big test this week because their practices couldn’t focus on one aspect and have to be ready for everything because they will be tested everywhere.

Offensive Weakness
One of the weaknesses of Iowa’s offense this year is that their offensive line starters seem to be smaller than the ones they are used to having on the field.  The tackles are right at 300 pounds and the guards and center are under 290.  They haven’t given up a lot of sacks, but there does seem the ability to apply pressure which has caused some drives to end.  They are converting less than 50% of their 3rd downs in their losses this year, which is giving their opponents extra opportunities to put points on the board.  In their win over Northwestern, they only converted 1-7 third downs, but managed to get enough points to pull out a win.

Defensive Strength
Micah Hyde is a returning playmaker in the secondary and Shaun Prater is a good senior corner on the other side of the field.  This gives their defense the ability to put the corners in man coverage without giving up too many big plays.  Even in their losses to Minnesota and Penn State, they gave up less than 200 yards passing.  This will continue to play into Michigan’s weakness by giving them the option to stack the box.

Defensive Weakness
 Iowa lost Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug to the NFL and it has caused their defensive line to be average at best this season.  In 2010 they rarely blitzed because the defensive line was so good they could get quality pressure just rushing four.  This year that is definitely not the case with their defensive line ranking 99th in the country in tackles for loss and 83rd in sacks.  They aren’t getting pressure without blitzing which is giving opponents too much time for passes and too many holes to run through.  They were not able to slow down Minnesota last week allowing Marqueis Gray, who was coming off a foot injury that sidelined him a couple of weeks, to rush for 62 yards along with their running back gaining over 100 yards.

My Game Expectations
I do not like playing games against teams coming off an embarrassing loss.  Iowa losing last week to Minnesota who had lost their previous four games by a combined score of 181 – 55 counts as an embarrassing loss.  The Hawkeyes will want to come out at home and make a statement by beating a ranked team to get some of their respect back.  They also match up very well with Michigan, having big receivers and power running backs that have really abused Michigan the last few years, so their confidence will be high.

For Michigan, it seems like their worst enemy is the one they see when they look in the mirror.  Each week recently we have seen ugly interceptions, odd playcalls in the redzone and on 4th down, and mental errors on defense to allow some easy touchdowns.  Last week we did see a great performance from Fitzgerald Toussaint though, which was a huge improvement over the 10 total carries the running backs got against Michigan State.  It will be critical to have that success again this week because Iowa is a tough environment and we will not be able to rely on Denard passing to win the game.

Defensively, Michigan is going to play the same game they did against Michigan State.  It was fairly successful that week only allowing the Spartans to score 21 points (another 7 off an interception return late in the game), compared to the 37 they put up the next week against Wisconsin.  We will need the linebackers to read appropriately on the running plays and will need the secondary to keep the receivers in front of them to force long drives and hope Iowa makes some mistakes on 3rd down.  This will also be a good week to see Coach Mattison turn up his blitz package since Iowa is not tricky with their offense.  There should be obvious running downs and obvious passing downs where our defense can hedge their bets to execute a play geared towards stopping one or the other.  That could cause them to give up big plays if they guess wrong, but could help to keep the Hawkeye offense in longer second and third down situations.

On the offensive side, we should expect to see lots of defenders in the box to force Denard to throw.  We saw a good game plan against Purdue that got the running backs on the edges and allowed Denard to complete short passes, which was very effective.  The O-line is banged up this week with Ricky Barnum likely out again and Taylor Lewan nursing an injury, but they still should be able to open up some holes and protect Denard against the Iowa defensive front.  I also think Denard will get more carries this week himself after seeing what Minnesota was able to do running their quarterback.

Iowa City is a tough place to play, starting with the pink visitor’s locker room that Hayden Frye built to try to lower their opponents aggression and then going to the field where the fans are literally within spitting distance of the opponents bench.  The best thing going for us is that it’s not a night game and the weather looks like it will be dry, calm, and temps in the 50’s to low 60’s.  I think Michigan’s defense can slow down Iowa enough and their offense can exploit some weaknesses in the front seven to keep drives going.  I’m nervous about this game more than any so far this year because of Iowa’s loss last week, in which Iowa outgained Minnesota 446 yards to 370.  I do think this Michigan team is capable of winning every game remaining on the schedule though, as long as we don’t beat ourselves because it does appear we are our own worst enemies.

Outcome
Michigan wins 28-24

-Mike Randazzo

 

5 MATCHUPS TO PAY ATTENTION TO ON SATURDAY

1. Mike Martin vs. Iowa Offensive Line:  As Mike pointed out above, this is not a vintage Iowa offensive line with potential pros littered throughout.  They’ve done a good job on the ground, but they are hardly the road graders we’ve seen in the past.  Mike Martin is still our best player on defense, and showed why last week when he lived in the Purdue backfield.  Unfortunately, Martin hasn’t been consistent enough this year to expect that from him every game.  We’ll need him to not only command double teams, but to beat them in order to disrupt the Iowa running and passing games.  He is the key to slowing down the Iowa offense.

2. Marvin McNutt vs. J.T. Floyd:  I’m assuming that J.T. Floyd is going to get the matchup against McNutt.  McNutt, in addition to being this year’s honorary Stuart Schweigert Award Winner for most years playing college football (I swear McNutt has been at Iowa since 2005), is also the best receiver in the Big Ten in my opinion.  Floyd has been better than expected this year, but I fully expect McNutt to pick up over 100 yards.  The key will be keeping him out of the end zone.  He’ll have an impact on the game, but if he goes for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns, we will be in trouble. 

3. Denard Robinson vs. Himself: It’s a broken record, but it’s true, this Michigan team will go as far as Denard Robinson’s arm can take them.  Given the re-emergence of the run game, I don’t think we’ll need Denard to win the game with his arm, he just can’t lose it for us.  One or two bad interceptions at inopportune times usually result in losses in Big Ten road games.  Beyond not turning the ball over, the other thing I hope to see Denard do tomorrow is use his legs on non-running plays.  The next time I see him take off running on a designed passing play will be the first.  I know that the defense is always spying him with a linebacker, but I like Denard’s chances of making that one guy miss at least 50% of the time.   Denard had his “breakout” game against Iowa in 2009, where his change of pace almost led us to victory.  A late interception cost us though.  He has a shot for redemption this year if he plays smart. 

4. Michigan Rushing Attack vs. Iowa Front 7:  Last week saw the emergence of Michigan’s first consistent rushing game in quite sometime.  One could argue that Purdue’s rush defense is actually better than Iowa’s, and so there is reason to be optimistic we can do that again.  As Mike pointed out, there is no future NFL star on the Iowa defensive line, at least not yet.  But that doesn’t mean one isn’t lurking.  This is not a vintage Iowa defense, but Kirk Ferentz always seems to get his guys to play their best when they need to.  If Michigan can run the ball effectively, it will open up the play action pass and take enormous pressure off of Denard and the passing game.  I don’t trust Denard enough to lead us to victory all by himself – he’s still to mistake prone. 

5. Crowd vs. Mental Toughness:  There is a reason Iowa is 59-12 over the last 10 years at Kinnick Stadium.  Though Hayden Fry thinks it is the pink locker rooms, it’s the Iowa crowd and the lift they give the Hawkeyes.  Iowa City has always been a tough place to play, and tomorrow will be no different.  I’m interested to see how the crowd and the team react to the awful loss to Minnesota last week.  My hunch is that since Iowa actually controls its own destiny in the Big Ten race with games against Nebraska, MSU, and Michigan still on the schedule, the crowd will be ready to go, as will the team.  Michigan will have to be mentally tough to handle the swells of emotion, and not give away entire quarters like they did 3 weeks ago against MSU.  That’s how you end up behind by 14 points.  Take the crowd out early, and this one should work out for the good guys. 

PREDICTION:

I’m not encouraged by the 59-12 home record of Iowa in the last 10 years, nor am I excited about the 4-11 road record of Michigan since 2008.  We are a better team than Iowa, but we need to play like it.  Drive killing penalties and interceptions will not get it done in Iowa City.  Though McNutt is a handful, I like our chances of slowing down the Iowa offense.  I also think that Denard finally uses his legs and breaks a couple of long runs this week.  Make no mistake, this is a huge game.  At 8-1 with 3 games to play, Michigan is squarely in the hunt for the Big Ten Legends division.  I also think Michigan is keenly aware of what a win in Iowa City means.  It’s going to be very close, but I think we pull it out. 

Michigan 31

Iowa 28 

 

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