"It's not about last year or who's here or who's isn't here," says your head coach. "It's about getting out here and competing and seeing who is here, and that's where we're gonna go."
Preview: I Apologize But I Think We Win
Run Offense vs. Iowa
The running game was surprisingly good last week against the one of the better run defenses in the country. The left side of the offensive line, including center Adam Kraus, was great all day and Lentz and Riley, though they had significant problems in pass protection, also contributed to an effective (though not explosive) day for Mike Hart and Kevin Grady. Michigan's draw-based running game worked consistently, gashing the Nittany Lions for most of a critical second half-opening touchdown drive.
Iowa's defense is hard to get a read on. Games against Northern Iowa (I-AA), Ball State (83rd in rushing), and Iowa State (93rd) offer little insight into how the Hawkeyes stack up against Michigan. Ohio State completely throttled Iowa, rushing for over 300 yards against them. For comparison's sake, they got 91 against PSU and 137 against MSU, they aren't that good. While they've stood up decently outside of that one game, it's mostly because they jumped out to big leads against bad teams who then were forced to pass. Illinois' Pierre Thomas went for 100 yards on 15 carries. Kory Sheets of Purdue went for 78 on just 16. Iowa did do a good job against a lot of Indiana carries (44 for 86)... but, uh, that's Indiana. Statistics and common sense indicate that even Michigan's slightly wonky offensive line should be able to line up and smash the Iowa front four.
Michigan's Jekyll and Hyde act may spring up and bite them in the ass, but they should have a successful day running against the Hawkeyes. Mike Hart hasn't been held under 100 yards this year; last year against a much more fearsome version of this exact defense he went for 99. He is real and he is spectacular. Combine that with the hopelessly outweighed and inexperienced defensive line and Iowa has two choices: expose their gimpy secondary against Michigan's inconsistent pass game or hope their players can beat the one on one matchups presented and then tackle Hart. Hobson's choice, that.
Key Matchup: TE Tyler Ecker and C Adam Kraus versus LBs Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. Michigan was able to get out on Penn State's two outstanding linebackers and the result was a series of big gains that led to Michigan's first touchdown of the Penn State game. Facing a similarly intimidating pair, they'll have to do the trick again.
Pass Offense vs. Iowa
Chad Henne's numbers against Penn State--21 of 32 for 212 yards and two axiom-altering touchdowns to Mario Manningham--seem like a drastic improvement from past games when he struggled to complete half his passes, but a closer examination shows that his performance was no better or worse than any of his others this year, if you adjust for opposing defense quality. Henne was often incapable of finding open receivers (11 instances against PSU) and was only somewhat accurate when he did. His PSU numbers were greatly propped by a profusion of screens and long handoffs (12 in total for 10 completions)--take those away and you get MOTS: 11 for 20 with a number of sacks or two yard scrambles due more to Henne's errors than Penn State's defense. To boot, immediately after Mario Manningham etched himself into Michigan lore last week rumors of injury started swirling around him. I have a bad feeling about his availability for Iowa.
Iowa's secondary is not healthy and it showed last week against Indiana. Blake Powers found open receivers all day both deep and short in Terry Hoeppner's spread offense. With two Iowa secondary starters--safety Charles Godfrey and corner Antwaan Allen--limping around on sprained ankles and the intimidating pass rush provided by Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux gone, Michigan should find similarly open receivers, but the inconsistency from the entire passing game has been persistent enough to declare it chronic. Michigan will find some success here but as per usual will underperform expectations.
Key Matchup: Michigan WRs versus Iowa CBs after the catch. Iowa lays back in a passive zone a lot and will keep Avant, Manningham, and Breaston, et al., in front of them. Michigan's going to screw up at some point on most long drives and be forced to settle for field goal attempts. Turning five yards into ten or twenty is going to make the difference on a few drives and probably in in the game.
Run Defense Vs Iowa
Iowa's running game is no longer the humorously melanin-free Sam Brownlee and a bunch of broken body parts. Albert Young has emerged from the sack of cats as a real threat... maybe. It depends on whether you're looking at games against Illinois (13 for 102) and Indiana (26 for 125) or Ohio State(10 for 25). Unfortunately, our run defense--currently 74th--is looking closer to the former than the latter... somehow. It seems like it should be much better, but it isn't. Plagued by repeated, maddening containment issues and Pat Massey's tendency to end plays looking up at the sky, Michigan has ceded gobs of rushing yards to all opponents with a pulse.
It's yet to be determined whether or not Iowa actually has a pulse, despite the numbers. Given what I saw against Indiana the answer is definitely maybe. Young gained most of his yards cutting it outside and just outrunning the Indiana defense. Michigan's linebackers won't allow that to happen, since they're fast. There will be opportunities for Iowa to exploit holes that shouldn't be there because of linebackers overpursuing or losing containment but just outrunning them? You tore your ACL last year, Young, you aren't getting outside with impunity. I call fraud on the Iowa run game. Michigan will largely shut it down; there will be scattered instances of linebackers getting (-2) on their chart for giving me aneurysms.
Key Matchup: DTs Pat Massey and Gabe Watson versus the Zone Stretch. I have confidence that Branch and Woodley will hold up admirably by this point in the year, especially against a backup LT (Lee Gray being lost for the year) and a JUCO transfer at RT. Massey and Watson have to fight the more experienced interior offensive linemen off to make that probable dominance count, though.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Drew Tate hasn't seemed quite the same this year for whatever reason and is now missing his best wide receiver, Ed Hinkel, for the year. I could point to more stats, but it's been mentioned before: Iowa has no meaningful ones. Tate's torn up three of the worst pass defenses in Division I over the past few weeks (Illinois: 11oth opponent passing efficiency; Purdue 113th; Indiana 69th) so his numbers are gaudy by there's not necessarily any there there. Michigan has somehow acquired the best pass efficiency defense in the Big Ten (24th nationally), probably because they've played Robinson, Cupito, Stocco, etc. Against Drew Stanton they sat back and got shredded. No one has proven anything.
I do think Tate is a very good quarterback who can lead Iowa down the field with some regularity, but without Hinkel he's somewhat handcuffed. Michigan will focus a lot of attention on Clinton Solomon and make him hit his other receivers. He'll complete a lot of passes, but he'll have to.
Key Matchup: Prescott Burgess/David Harris versus TE Scott Chandler. The play action boot is a staple of the Iowa offense and has been highly effective against Michigan for a long time now.
Both Steve Breaston and Garrett Rivas decided to show up against Penn State and Michigan needed both to win. Breaston has seemingly returned to form after two consectutive strong games returning kicks and punts. Also of note was Ross Ryan's performance against Penn State, which was great. Ryan's punts were all around 40 yards and unreturnable. The special teams seems extremely strong save for the field goal per game that Rivas sends into the sidelines.
Key Matchup: Garrett Rivas versus Stop Shanking Stuff.
Have you f
ound Gorgoroth? Let me tell you about how It entered my life. Before, I was a sinner. I loved dogs of all sorts. I consorted with them, hurling balls willy nilly, taking them for walks and disposing of their excrement, lying down in their dens, "roughhousing." I walked that deep, despondent path of friendship and happy companionship.
Lo, I was wretched.
But then, one day I was walking through the park and I saw this french fry that looked kind of funny. I tilted my head, wondering what this fry was trying to tell me. Tell me deep in my soul. I glanced at it for a moment; nothing. I looked away and tried to catch it off guard; nothing. Finally, I held it in the edges of my peripheral vision, waiting for the french fry to reveal itself to me. I heard a mighty crack and people screaming, screaming something about running home. I felt the hand of Gorgoroth upon me. All was black.
He appeared to me.
He spoke his black gospel. And now I'm saved! Shouldn't you be saved by the Demon Kitten God? Maybe? You'll get back to me? Okay. We meet at the civic center. Free coffee.
Three Things I'd Like To See:
- The interior of the offensive line grinding the young chilluns they oppose into a fine paste.
- JUCO transfer Marshall Yanda single blocking Lamarr Woodley.
- Mario, healthy.
Three Things I Don't Want To See:
- Michigan going to a three wide and then running into a stacked line.
- Anyone other than Mike Hart attempting to pick up blitzing linebackers.
- Any $*ing funny stuff on punts.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for On The Road Again (Ugh), -1 for And A Child On The Defensive Line Is A Bad Idea, -1 for You Haven't Beaten Anyone As Good As Us, +1 for Er... Probably.)
Desperate need to win level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for It Would Be Nice To Win Two In A Row, +1 for It Would Also Be Nice To Go To A Bowl; -1 for But It Would Probably Be The Music City Bowl.)
Loss will cause me to... get slightly cranky, boy howdy!
Win will cause me to... cease watching MAC games in preparation for our bowl opponent.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:Goddammit. I think we should win this game. Iowa is a giant fraud, having beaten Indiana, Illinois, Ball State, Northern Iowa, and Purdue. Not one of those teams is going to even sniff the Motor City Bowl. They lost to a bad Iowa State team by 20; they were completely bitched by Ohio State. Michigan has a crappy record but has played much stiffer competition. If Penn State couldn't do much about Hart is Iowa going to? Doesn't it seem fairly probable that Limpy McAnklestein in the secondary lets someone get a big play? Aren't the chances of #*$@ing funny stuff in the punt game fairly low?
I know, I know, I've doomed us. But what we have here is a lack of a control. Wins have been accompanied both by Kitten Power and predictions of losses. This week we get the kittens but not the prediction of a loss. Not all is lost!
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Manningham again plays sparingly due to the mysterious injury.
- Burgess finally gets it right and UFR does not contain "OMG YOU LOST CONTAIN."
- 24-20, Michigan.