Best and Worst: Iowa

Best and Worst: Iowa

Submitted by bronxblue on November 13th, 2016 at 3:13 AM

This is going to be quick.  You all watched the game.  Brian will do a better job analyzing it during the UFR.  I’m annoyed and don’t want to dwell on a crappy game.

Worst:  Just…Whatever

Michigan isn’t Alabama.  It isn’t even really OSU.  It’s not a program that can just roll out dominant teams every year and compete for a title.  It has windows of opportunities, seasons where they can play at an elite level and play for championships.  1997 they obviously made it to the end.  2006 got tantalizingly close.  And 2016 felt like another (in what seems to be a once-a-decade window) of being another one of those great seasons.  The defense is loaded with veterans and future NFL stars, the offense is being guided by one of the best coaches in the country, and the schedule is reasonably favorable.  And for 9 weeks, UM largely looked the part of a champion, demolishing teams with ruthless efficiency.  #3 in the CFB playoffs rankings, #1 in S&P+, top-10 on both offense and defense.  About as close to a juggernaut at we’ve seen in Ann Arbor for decades.

This is a year when UM can take their crack at titles, both conference and national, before graduation and the machinations of football likely force UM to regroup a bit.  Iowa should have been just another step on the path, a night road game yes, but also against a team that has looked lifeless recently.  After playing bitter rival MSU and prodigal son’s Maryland, this game felt like a reprieve by comparison; a Greg Davis offense and a shaky QB against one of the best defenses in the country.  UM might not blow the Hawkeyes off the field, but this was going to be one of those comfortable wins that get gentle nods from knowledgeable fans when discussion turns to UM playing “like a champion”.  And then…

I wish I could write something eloquent and insightful, some 10,000 word opus that makes sense of losing to Iowa again, letting a team that had no business staying within 20 points of UM grind them up on the ground and kick a game-winning FG as time expired.  But I just don’t got it, guys.  This was a game UM should have won because they are the better team, and yet here we sit, a big black mark on a previously-spotless resume.  And maybe they run the table and still get a shot to the playoffs, but this misstep makes that mountain even higher to climb, and now we are stuck rooting for more chaos and hoping the nagging injuries and the weaknesses that have arisen these past couple of weeks can be mitigated in real time. 

For the third week in a row now, Michigan had trouble tackling ballcarriers, allowing 54 yards after contact to Akrum Wadley as part of his 167 yard performance.  Both Darboh and Chesson struggled to haul in much of anything (a combined 3 catches for 35 yards), and Chesson compounded his issues by allowing Rugamba to rip the ball from his hands for Speight’s INT late in the game that stopped a promising drive.  UM didn’t crack 100 yards rushing a week after Iowa gave up 359 to PSU, and repeatedly ran plays that led to TFLs (Iowa had 8 on the day) or, in one incredibly poorly-blocked sequence, a safety.  The offensive line looked legitimately overmatched by an under-performing Iowa front 7.  And Wilton Speight, after weeks of looking like a star, fell back to earth quite a bit, completing less than half of passes (11/26) for 103 yards and the aforementioned pick, and might have a shoulder injury to boot.

If there is a silver lining, I guess it is that it took sooooo many things to go wrong for UM to lose.  Khalid Hill missed an obvious block on the safety that gave Iowa some life early on when UM was up 10-0, then fumbled the second-half kickoff that Iowa was able to turn into a FG.  Michigan again suffered at the hands of the Arbitrary Targetting Gods, losing Devin Bush to a marginal late hit when the Iowa punter flipped over on a fake.  Speight repeatedly missed deep despite both Chesson and Darboh streaking open; connect on any of those deep balls and this game absolutely turns for the good guys.  Kirk Ferentz, a young earth zealot because he was there, man, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, went for it on 4th down 2 out of 3 times, called multiple fakes, and generally coached that one game a year when the little old gerbils in his head take a break and the mongoose hoped up on Red Bull and whippets starts calling the shots.

The referees were atrocious in this game, to the point that John O’Neill should be booed every moment of every day he’s in Michigan Stadium from now until the heat death of the universe.  Just a clownshow, the same incompetent goober who was the official for MSU 2015.  The borderline facemask penalty to set up Iowa’s game-winning final drive, terrible spots including on Beathard’s final run, apparently not understanding grounding until it smacked him in the face, all of the kicker-related penalties, just everything.  And that isn’t to take all of his calls were wrong, only that they seemed so damn arbitrary and inconsistent.  At least he called roughing the center right this time.

It was a crazy weekend, so maybe it’s fitting UM joined the lot.  Washington and Clemson lost just as badly, exposing their own weaknesses in the process, and the end of the season remains the gateway to accolades it’s always been:  beat IU and OSU, and UM will be in the B1G championship game and have a chance at a playoff spot.  And maybe I’m in the minority, but OSU still feels tractable simply because it’s a team with decided issues (QB accuracy, limited rushing attack outside of Barrett) and performances that have exposed them.  But after a tumultuous week off the gridiron, I wasn’t expecting to be writing about another underdog stunner.

Worst:  Offensive Offense

This was just a terribly called game offensively.  Maybe the UFR will prove me wrong, but this looked like a Hoke offense at times out there.  UM finished with a bit over 200 total yards of offense, and most of that came in the first half.  The offensive line couldn’t get any push all day against the 86th-ranked rushing attack in the country.  Repeatedly Michigan tried to get “cute” running the ball, throwing little pitches to Smith and Evans on short yardage to the short side of the field, only to have it snuffed out almost immediately by eleventy-billion Hawkeyes.  Ty Isaac ran the ball exactly once for UM’s lone TD, then was relegated to the bench.  Smith and Evans were basically running into Mason Cole half the time, as there was no push up front.  Kalis really seemed to struggle at the point of the attack, even though the safety was probably on Hill not picking up Johnson at the snap.  Both tackles had trouble keeping the pocket clean as the game wore on, and Iowa wound up blistering Speight those last couple of drives.  And yes, field position played some role in this whole day, as UM’s averaging starting position was the 27 yard line, which is a far cry from UM’s nation-leading 36-yard spot coming into the game.

As for throwing the ball, Speight looked really good to start the game but could never connect on a deep throw to shake up the defense even though Darboh was flying down the field most plays.  I know it was a tough ball to a diving Chesson, but his little hesitation-feint-throw-pullback-throw on the run on 3rd down was fantastic to watch.  He had a some balls to Butt and Chesson early on that were great, and he looked in control of the offense.  But then he started to get hit, and his receivers dropped a couple of balls, and the offense kept getting stuck in long third downs (for the day they were 5-for-15), and the playcalls became really focused on the deep throw.  That’s not his game, that’s not this offense’s game, and it honestly felt like UM’s attempts to take the top off the defense gave Iowa easy outs.  After halftime Speight was just 3/9 for 24 yards and a pick, and never looked comfortable.  Even his completions were wonky, such as the ball to Butt that wobbled past a tight Iowa defender and succeeded because Butt knows a thing or two about holding onto the ball.  And now it sounds like he might have a shoulder or wrist injury, which is fantastic news with team sorta-CHAOS and OSU the next 2 weeks. 

What bothered me most was how predictable the offense looked.  McDoom came in and they either ran the sweep or faked it; I get that teams will respond to his appearance and you can play off that, but throw him the damn ball once or twice just to give people a sense.  Same with Peppers, who is a screaming “WE’RE RUNNING THE BALL NOW!” at this point, who mostly gets yards because he’s an incredible athlete and UM can sorta block teams anyway.  But either put that back into the garage and tinker with the Pepcat package or let the guy do something, anything else.  Because right now, it’s starting to get like that one song at the top of your Spotify playlist you hear all the time before you hit shuffle.  You ain’t fooling anyone, Cults.

And yet, despite probably the worst offensive performance we’ve seen under Harbaugh at UM, Michigan probably should have still emerged with the victory.  Sometimes that does just happen, and I’m okay with it to an extent.  Iowa was able to weather some early trouble, got a couple of breaks, and pulled out a tight victory.  Still, the offensive line still has question marks, and asking Speight to throw deep when it clearly wasn’t working (versus some shorter balls to get the chains moving and not tax leaky protection) are coaching issues that must be addressed.  UM simply cannot play like this offensively again and expect to win, and they’ve only got a week to figure it out.

Meh:  The Defense

I see people complaining about the defense, mostly because Wadley had a great day and they lost.  And their is some credence to the ongoing issues tackling in space by the linebackers and defensive backfield.  McCray repeatedly struggled to stay with Wadley in the open field, and it’s clear now that more physical backs can give UM trouble.  The linebackers are athletic but still seem prone to taking bad angles or missing on shifty backs, and the idea of them trying to keep up with Weber and especially Samuel aren’t appealing.  I’d say just throw Peppers into that role, but not only is it yet another burden on him, it would probably disrupt the defensive flow for the team.

I know people want to get on Stribling for his tackling, but I don’t expect miracles from my corners in run defense.  And he had some nice pass defenses and what I erroneously assumed would be the game-clinching pick.  And Beathard was terrible this whole game; he cracked 3.4 ypa, and that was with a Wadley pitch-and-catch. 

Both Hill and Thomas, though, missed easy tackles and let Wadley pick up big yards after contact.  Iowa probably should have had a TD (or at least a long completion) in that first half when seemingly everybody forgot Nate Wieting and were bailed out by an underthrown ball and Hill getting there a bit late to clean up.  But in general, the defense played well enough to win. They held a team that averaged about 5.5 yard per play to 3.4, and that was with some zaniness to boot.  Yes UM isn’t a murderdeathmachine against the run, but people saying it was “exposed” might be overstating it a bit.  Sometimes the way you stop a running game is by taking those plays out of the playbook via scoring, and had UM found a way to push this to a 2-score lead in that second half, I think some of the Wadley damage doesn’t materialize. 

Indiana will be a challenge; I have no idea how UM will fair against the all those goofy Redding, Natee, and Diamont packages, but my guess is UM will be fine.  UM played well enough to win this game defensively, and I’m not ready to call a team that gave up 12 points on 68 plays “exposed.”

Worstest:  The F**************cking Refs!

Watching this game every time a yellow flag came out felt like this.

It was just a cavalcade of insanity and insult.  Iowa played well, but they got a health dose of help from O’Neill and his pack of blind squirrels.  It’s bad spots, it’s bad targetting calls, a fringe facemask penalty, roughing the kicker penalties that basically forced UM to stop bringing any pressure lest they get blamed for Iowa’s kicker falling on his ass again, just everything.  And I don’t think they cost UM the game; Michigan barely putting up 200 yards of offense was the bigger culprit.  But at the same time, I shouldn’t be cringing as soon as I hear who is calling these games, and yet the minute I realized O’Neill’s crew was on the docket, I harkened back to last year’s MSU game and just knew something would go wrong. 

College football is all about spending millions of dollars of coaches, training techniques, new technology, everything, and yet they have these part-time refs with histories of ineptitude messing around with important games.  I don’t care about paying these guys, but there also needs to be a public reprimand if they screw up.  Coaches and players get called out, let these guys answer questions after the game.  They are grown-ass men and women, and their decisions have an outsized impact on games.

Best:  Kenny MF Allen

Kenny Allen drained a 51-yard FG to give UM the late lead.  Outside of basically 2 games this year over a month ago, Allen has been good as both a punter and kicker.  For all the negative parts you can take from this game, one positive should be that Allen has ice in his veins and a leg to back it up.

Worst:  The Heisman Talk

Listen, I think Peppers is great.  He’s an amazing athlete and a special talent.  He’ll be a mixture on Sunday for a decade.  But at this point, I’m getting tired of every announcer trying to make a case for him.  Peppers is special because of his flexibility on defense, and tangible, quantifiable proof of that impact is hard to find (save for TFLs, which aren’t even that good of a barometer).  I know he’s great, fans know he’s great, but he isn’t going to win the Heisman, and as a viewer of college football I don’t need breathless commentary every time he runs for 4 yards on a designed run.  It’s lazy and somewhat insufferable, and cheapens what else he does on the field.

Worst:  RPS All the Minuses

I’ll let Brian figure this all out, but I thought the offensive playcalling was really bad in that second half.  UM has a great offense, but when you are playing in a 1950’s game, call it like a 1950’s game.  Maybe break out a jet sweep if you are feeling frisky, but otherwise just run the ball between the tackles and throw short passes to the flats and Butt and force Iowa to stop you.  They repeatedly called for Speight to throw the ball deep, and it just wasn’t there.  That partially falls on the players for not “making plays” (oh god, I feel dumber having just said that), but it also falls on the coaches for putting them in tough spots.  I don’t know how to describe this offensive gameplan other than it felt like a Borges offense, too clever by half.  A couple of times, Speight would pitch the ball on the short side of the field and the play was inevitably chewed up, and I just didn’t know what the plan was.  Iowa’s defensive line isn’t that good, and my guess is a steady stream of runs right at them probably hit paydirt sooner rather than later.  And yet, Michigan put themselves in long 3rd downs way too often (they averaged about 3rd-and-6), and it hurt their offensive flow and options. 

As for the defense, I don’t think Greg Davis outcoached anyone, but Wadley in space was clearly all of Iowa’s offense and yet Brown and co. were slow to react.  They did shut down the Iowa passing attack, as anemic as it was during the year, and again, that final drive wasn’t why UM lost. 

I get that UM will get a team’s best effort; that happens when you are a major player.  But on the road, you can’t mess around with competent teams, and for all of Iowa’s struggles they are still probably going to win 8-9 games this year.  They aren’t a pushover, especially at home, and yet UM let this game play into their hands way too much.

Next Week:

IU comes to town next.  They really aren’t that good, and while they are still CHAOS team, the shoe doesn’t quite fit like it did in the past.  Their offense is janky and sometimes explosive, and the defense is fine for IU standards but has still given up a bunch of points recently (36 to MD, 27 to Rutgers, 45 to PSU).  I assume UM will handle them and the focus will be on The Game for a shot at the playoffs.  And yeah, a small part of me is hoping MSU builds on their demolition of Rutgers to give OSU a fight, but whatever margin UM had is gone after this game, and so it’s time to just win and advance.

Go Blue.

Iowa Kirk Ferentz 1-on-1 Interview: Michigan "reminiscent of their '85 defense"

Iowa Kirk Ferentz 1-on-1 Interview: Michigan "reminiscent of their '85 defense"

Submitted by markusr2007 on November 10th, 2016 at 5:19 PM

I can't embed, but the weekly KCRG video interview from his head coach office is interesting:

http://www.kcrg.com/content/sports/Kirk-Ferentz-1-on-1-400640211.html

Ferentz's comments:

  • "Really is" the most talented team we've faced in a while.\
  • Michigan on film "is the most impressive thing."
  • "Few of their games have been competitive. Played from behind only one time this year"
  • Too many playmakers. "Can't load up in one area" against them
  • "Defensively, they're not overly complicated, they just really play aggressively"
  • "Reminiscent of their '85 defense..wasn't exactly rocket science to get ready for them, but playing against them was a real challenge".

 

I found these comments on Michigan's defensive complexity interesting when set against the comments of other ACC offensive coordinator comments about it taking 50 hour weeks just to figure out what in the hell Don Brown thinks he is doing.

Iowa roll call and visitor suggestions

Iowa roll call and visitor suggestions

Submitted by WhoopinStick on November 8th, 2016 at 10:58 AM

Making my first road trip to the University of Iowa on Friday where I'll be meeting up with several other Michigan fans that will also be first timers.   For those that have been there before we'd greatly appreciate any recommendations for places to go Friday night, things to do during the day on Saturday, and suggestions for best spots for tailgating!

Who else is making the road triip this weekend?  

Iowa Party Bus Ride Share - Join In!

Iowa Party Bus Ride Share - Join In!

Submitted by bigdemo on October 21st, 2016 at 8:48 AM

Friends, a client of mine who is a reader, but only lurks on the boards, asked that I share this. Looks like a good time!   I will be out there as well and we may end up throwing a HomeSure Tailgate, if we do, come one over!

I'm trying to set up a party bus through Rallybus for the Iowa game.  My brother-in-law and I, along with our wives, are staying at Riverside Casino about 20 minutes south of Kinnick.  Currently I have a route set up that would leave the casino at 2:15 with a goal to get to the visitors RV parking lot (the softball complex from what I can see online) by 3 pm.  This should allow for ample tailgating prior to the game; the bus will then remain there and will leave about half an hour or so after the end of the game to head back to the casino.  We can add additional stops if necessary depending on interest.  
 
Right now we would need about 35 people @ $50 each to guarantee the bus, if we get more (capacity is 54) we can get that price down to $30 a person.  If we cannot secure enough commitments by 2 weeks before the game, the bus will be cancelled and no one is charged.  Click on the link at the bottom of the post and you can reserve your seats; your credit card won't be charged until the bus is confirmed and they know the final count.  Either way if you commit you won't pay more than $50 and could get it for as low as $30 assuming we get a full bus. 
 
For those of you unfamiliar with Rallybus they are a site coordinating party bus travel to various events.  My wife and I used it for the first time in Boston to go the Patriots-Bengals game, and it easily exceeded our expectations.  The benefits for us were that you can bring your own booze (just no glass bottles) and take all of your tailgate gear.  
 
The bus stays on site and is locked during the game so you can leave whatever you want behind.  Also, the bus has a bathroom, which I claim is more of a perk for the wives but honestly after a few I end up using it just as much.  It's also nice to have the bathroom during the tailgate as opposed to waiting in line for whatever port-a-potties are on site.  Here's a FAQ section if you want to check it out further.  Rally - Crowdpowered Travel 
 
Admittedly I have only used the service for the one trip, so if anyone else has used Rallybus and has suggestions or comments, please feel free to let me know.
 
My brother in-law posted a similar thread on Rivals and a local fan out there made a couple of useful comments.  He indicated the casino may be a good location for fans from Cedar Rapids or elsewhere to meet up and ride in as opposed to trying to fight traffic and parking on their own.  He also said there is a Menards and Wal-Mart off Highway 1 between the casino and the stadium which could also potentially be  good second pick-up spot.  We are open to suggestions and really just trying to get a economical way to tailgate with other Michigan fams and avoid driving.    
 
So, if you are interested, use the link below to reserve your spot.  Note that currently this trip does not show up with the others on Rallybus for this game, as those appear to have been set up thinking this was a noon kick-off and  I wanted to make sure the bus we reserved was for the night game.  I have a request into rallybus to clear this up and link it for anyone searching Michigan-Iowa.  
 
 
Also, thank you to Matt, and HomeSure Lending, (how's that tailgate trailer thing coming?) for posting this for me.  Although I have been a long time reader I rarely post, which means I did not have the requisite points to post this on my own.  Mentioned it to my new favorite lender and he said he could take care of it for me.  So add this to the long list of stories indicating how great of a guy Matt is.  - Brandon
 
In response to Brandon - The HomeSure Mobile Tailgate Trailer will (should, when the Mrs. relents) be up and operational for the entire 2017 season.  Two 50" TVs w/ Dish, two taps, bathroom, speakers, full bar. 

Iowa game weekend - Advice for visitors

Iowa game weekend - Advice for visitors

Submitted by eth2 on October 12th, 2016 at 11:24 AM

As part of an annual Michigan football road trip with friends, we are traveling to Iowa City for the game weekend in November. Have a hotel already, but am looking for recommendations from the MGoBlog community on things to do and places worth checking out, e.g., good breakfast spots, other restaurants, good beer bars / breweries, sports bars, pre-game related events, etc.

Many thanks in advance. Go Blue!

 

 

A Friendly Note to Crab People

A Friendly Note to Crab People

Submitted by Mercury Hayes on September 17th, 2016 at 2:33 PM

Another week of football, another slate of games that prove that matchups are weird and sports are hard.

Right now we've got:

Georgia State 17, Wisconsin 13 in the fourth quarter

Iowa 21, North Dakota 14 (it was tied in the 3rd quarter)

Tennessee 14, Ohio 12 in the third quarter

Penn State 24, Temple 17 in the late third quarter

Slightly different, but FSU losing a conference game by 32 points.

 

Iowa Most Overlooked B1G Team

Iowa Most Overlooked B1G Team

Submitted by Space Coyote on May 31st, 2016 at 11:15 AM
This morning I wanted to drop a daily dose of HOT TAKE on Twitter and said that Iowa was being drastically overlooked by many. This has sparked some healthy debate.

I've found it odd that people talk about Michigan's easy schedule when they travel to three top 15 teams: MSU, OSU (write back to me when they have lost more than 1 regular season game and I'll drop them out of the top 15), and Iowa. They also likely get the 2nd best team in the west (Wisconsin, though their schedule is ridiculously tough until November). Interestingly, Iowa only plays UM of the UM, MSU, OSU trio.

This was met with some disagreement regarding Iowa, such that they may be ranked that high but aren't that good of a team (look at the advanced stats for proof). They had a huge positive turnover margin last year as well.

My take however is this. They return the best QB in the B1G, with only JT Barrett being close. Beathard is Davis's (Iowa OC) QB at Iowa (better than JR Rudock) and best QB he's had since McCoy when he was Texas's OC. The question there is whether Ferentz will allow the offense to open up enough to prove it.

While AIRBHG is still in effect, Iowa has as much depth at that position than anyone. They lose a big play WR in Smith but replace him with another big play WR named Smith. They have a couple good possession WRs to counter him. Cobble will be missed, but that likely just means less 12 personnel as Kittle is a fine replacement. The OL was weak on the left side last year, but Myer has moved to his more natural OG spot and while that may take away a bit in the run game, it should drastically help their protection (and while Mayer was good once latched, he struggled at times moving well enough in their stretch scheme anyway, so even then it's a positive).

They return a very good D. Johnson is one of the best DT in the B1G. Jewell is 1st team all B1G caliber. Niemann could be all conference as well. King is one of the nations best CB and Mabin is a very solid 2nd CB who gets tested a lot because of how good King is. Losing Meier and Fisher hurts, as does the hard hitting Lomax (who had some issues of his own in the open field), but they return a lot of talent on D.

And while advanced stats is a legit topic to bring up, Iowa only had two games in the regular season where they didn't hold a two score lead with less than 3 minutes to play: Pitt and Wisconsin. After that they let some teams stay in it but we're clearly the better team (this hurt their advanced stats, but not really their overall skill). Likewise, they are a turnover based D by scheme. They run a lot of variations of two-high safeties and keep their eyes on the QB. Turnovers aren't luck, that gets confused by many. Fumble recoveries have a strong element of luck, but FF and INTs not nearly as much. Likewise their O is very TO averse. So their positive TO margin is likely to remain more than you'd typically expect. That risk averse O also tends to hold down their offensive metrics because it's low YPP, again, we'll see if Ferentz trusts his senior QB more this year.

Lastly, despite going undefeated in the regular season last year (incredibly difficult regardless of schedule), their last two games are how they are remembered, likely because those are the only two games people watched of them. Well they took MSU down to the last minute despite featuring a game plan very similar to Michigan and OSU (that is not attacking deep often enough, likely for the same reason UM didn't try more, because their OL couldn't sustain pass pro against the MSU DL). Look at how OSU, UM, and MSU fared against common opponents and Iowa generally did just as well or better.

Lastly, there was Stanford, which rightly leaves a bad taste in many mouths. But no team forces the match up problem Stanford did for Iowa. That is, in general, the combination of an NFL QB with good mobility, a power run scheme to force them to remain in their base D, and a great matchup problem in McCaffery. Certainly, teams can find some success attacking by similar means, but no team has the ability to attack LBs in coverage and fundamentally alter what Iowa does on the backend like Stanford did in the Rose Bowl.

In conclusion, I think Iowa is a top 15 team this year. Traveling to Iowa should stop being left off the board of tough games and should be seen as right there with at MSU and at OSU.