Preview: Iowa 2010 Comment Count

Brian October 15th, 2010 at 2:01 PM

Other stuff: Mathlete preview. The MZone's "Know Your Foe." talks to Iowa beat writer Marc Morehouse.

iowa-hawkeyes-guy Essentials

WHAT Michigan vs Iowa
WHERE Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN 3:30 Eastern, October 16th 2010
THE LINE Iowa -3
TELEVISION ABC/ESPN reverse mirror (map)
WEATHER Sunny, around 60
0% chance of rain

Run Offense vs. Iowa

Michigan's rushing offense failed to find the big play against Michigan State despite being a step from it a half-dozen times; down two or three scores for most of the second half they abandoned the run. The numbers came down from the stratosphere, but they weren't shut down, or close to it. Michigan's performance to date against BCS opponents:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
UConn 60 289 3 4.8
ND 41 288 3 7.0
Indiana 28 297 3 10.6
MSU 33 171 1 5.2
They were contained.

Indiana's terrible and UConn a major disappointment. Michigan did about what Wisconsin did against MSU and obliterated a Notre Dame rush defense that's not great but seems at least decent. They've played the #6, 14, and 25 rushing offenses in the country plus three other BCS teams and are still keeping their head above water in the rankings. They're tied for 56th in YPC, 0.02 behind Penn State. Even if you take out Denard's 87-yarder, Michigan averaged 5.0 YPC against Notre Dame.

So, yes, Michigan is pretty good at running the ball this year. They are about as good at running it as Iowa is at stopping it. The Hawkeyes are currently #2 in rushing D, #4 in total D, and #1 in scoring D. Their results against BCS opponents:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
Iowa State 23 94 0 4.1
Arizona State 28 85 0 3.0
Penn State 21 76 0 3.6

Though the Hawkeyes have been unyielding the only team they've played that can run even a little bit is ISU, the nation's 63rd-best rush offense thanks to a demolition job on Texas Tech. Arizona is 92nd and passed the ball almost 70% of the time in their first two Pac-10 games. And the debacle that is Penn State's offense is 85th; Illinois just held them to 65 yards.

The jury is still out. While their numbers are strong enough to suggest they're better than, say, Michigan's rush defense they could be on par with MSU or Notre Dame. (Arguing against this: even accounting for strength of opposition the Iowa rush defense is 3rd nationally in the Mathlete's PAN metrics.) Last year Iowa was 34th in rush defense and gave up 205 yards to Michigan at 4.7 yards a pop.

This year they return the entire line but lose two of the three linebackers. MLB Jeff Tarpinian was not on the depth chart earlier this week due to a Minor-like assortment of injuries but could give it a go; if he can't his replacement is either a fifth year senior who hasn't played much in his career or a freshman. Meanwhile Michigan has changed quarterbacks (massive upgrade), replaced Minor with a platoon of Shaw and Smith (significant downgrade), and added Taylor Lewan, David Molk, and Patrick Omameh to the offensive line (significant upgrade). You'd think Michigan could at least match last year's performance with an eye towards another YPC.

Schemes will be a major complicating factor. I'll be interested to see what, if anything, Iowa does to adjust to the Denard Robinson show. Last year they sat two safeties back and let Denard run his QB lead draw over and over again on his late touchdown drive. Iowa was protecting a two score lead and had not spent time preparing for the Denard offense, so adjustments and aggression were thin on the ground.

This year Iowa knows what they're getting in Denard, and they've had a bye week to work on defending him. Will they sit back like Michigan State did and hope to stiffen in the redzone, or will they start running scrape exchanges and blitzing? I'm guessing Iowa—which loves playing a simple base D well—will start with the former and move to the latter if it's not working.

Key Matchup: Michigan coaches finding ways to option the ball into Denard's hands. DR's the best running back Michigan has but Iowa will be solid enough to handle or keep down most plays that are conventional QB runs; they can bend but not break well enough to put Michigan behind in the race to 30 points. Big plays are probably going to come from Denard on plays where the guy containing is containing the RB. As a bonus, optioning off one of Iowa's defenders means not having to block someone on that defensive line.

Think Oregon and Illinois: midline and veer.

Pass Offense vs. Iowa


Tyler jimmer-jammin' Sash

Denard's grim day against Michigan State combines with the terrible interception against Iowa last year to dampen expectations. Despite those unfortunate events, however, Robinson is still 12th in passer efficiency. Iowa's defense is better (10th) but here they've had the luxury of taking on the 106th, 110th, and 115th most efficient passing attacks nationally. In their one game against a quarterback capable of doing something other than soiling himself, Nick Foles was 28 of 39 for 303 yards. That's a healthy 7.8 YPC.

Relevancy? Slight. Foles is a pocket bomber. Denard is a magic elf reliant on breathtakingly wide open receivers and a healthy dose of screenage for his numbers. There is some slight relevancy, though. The Mathlete has the Iowa pass defense at 0, average nationally.

FWIW, last year Forcier and the receivers imploded in this game; this was probably his shoulder injury's apex.

Here the interesting bit is how much pressure Iowa gets on Denard. Their vaunted defensive line has not racked up a ton of sacks—they're middle of the pack—and Michigan opponents have been cautious with their rush except in obvious passing situations. Iowa figures to rush four most of the day as they play zone and contain; straight dropback passes will be rare and depend heavily on freshman Taylor Lewan and journeyman Perry Dorrestein facing down a challenge an order of magnitude greater than any they've faced before. A dollar says that Robinson finds himself under seige from the Iowa DL when Michigan is off schedule and cannot mount a credible threat to run.

When Michigan is on schedule things will be in Michigan's favor because of the run threat. Still, Iowa will be far less vulnerable to Michigan's mega play action game than opponents to date. They have a two-deep system, they have veteran safeties made of grit and mandibles, they have film of the stuff Michigan's done for huge touchdowns. If they can avoid bringing down a safety to combat the run, Denard's numbers will be efficient but not amazing.

Key Matchup: Denard's deep accuracy versus Whatever That Was. If Michigan's going to win they're going to have to take advantage of an open receiver downfield or three. His close-range accuracy is probably going to  be fine; the past couple weeks he's missed a lot of guys deep.

Run Defense vs. Iowa



Hopes that the run defense was significantly better than the pass defense went out the window during a dispiriting day against Michigan State. After holding up well in the first quarter a series of zone stretches broke it either very big or sort of big throughout the rest of the game, leaving Michigan with truly ugly numbers:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
UConn 30 138 1 4.6
ND 31 165 1 5.3
Indiana 32 113 2 3.5
MSU 40 271 3 6.8

Michigan's hung on against their other three BCS opponents but I'd be remiss if I failed to mention two different UMass backs nearing 100 yards; Michigan's defense is terrible in all phases.

So it's time for changes. Michigan coaches have promised to take the enigmatic Kenny Demens out of mothballs in the hope that he can be less of a spectator than Obi Ezeh. Only the enigmatic Kenny Demens can tell you whether or not he will be, and he only speaks an ancient Sanskrit dialect.

As far as Iowa goes, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God is two tendons away from being as wroth as Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God, which is wroth indeed. Jewel Hampton tore his ACL for the second consecutive year and Brandon Wegher went on a vision quest, leaving Adam Robinson the only scholarship non-freshman available. You probably remember Robinson from last year's game; he was the guy who played more in the second half and had 70 yards on ten carries. Yay!

Iowa's two  games against Arizona and Penn State had outcomes between mediocre and terrible. Iowa tailbacks had 36 yards on 17 carries against Arizona; Robinson managed 95 on 28 carries against Penn State. They did obliterate Iowa State but Michigan's rush defense is 55th, not 102nd. Penn State is sort of a good comparison here. They're 51st after giving up buckets of yards to Illinois and Alabama; the Illinois game found the Nittany Lions injury-wracked.

Michigan will probably be worse than PSU was, but if it's not by much—say 120 yards on 4 YPC instead of 3.4—that will be a win for the beleaguered defense and should result in a number of real live stops. Robinson is significantly smaller than the MSU guys and won't be able to drag piles as far or stay up when Cam Gordon delivers the shoulder block from hell. He's still pretty good, though, and will do damage.

Key Matchup: Kenny Demens versus Whatever The Hell It Is That's Been Keeping Him On The Bench. I'm rooting for disgust at Michigan's talent identification so hard this weekend.

Pass Defense vs. Iowa



All right, fine, more of this "detail" you're always clamoring for: Stanzi is back. He is the Stanzi of last year minus the free seven points handed out to each team before the start of the contest (the pick six against Arizona wasn't his fault). He is full of America, and he is third in passer efficiency. Given a tough situation down many, many points on the road he led Iowa most of the way back against a good pass defense and finished 18 of 33 for 278 yards. Michigan does not have a good pass defense.

The closest comparable to Stanzi on the schedule is the guy Michigan just played: Kirk Cousins. Cousins isn't a superhero but he's a veteran guy with good accuracy and a good deep ball. Michigan may be less susceptible to play action since the Iowa ground game doesn't figure to be as potent and the freshmen corners won't be given one-on-one coverage deep with James Rogers back, but when Stanzi drops back to pass bad things will happen. He was robotic against Penn State early, when Iowa ran out to the two touchdown lead they nursed through the second half.

Michigan's best hope here is getting to Stanzi. Iowa's last-ditch bid to re-tie the Arizona game ended with four straight sacks (one was erased by penalty) and Iowa's average in that department despite passing only 40% of the time. A scenario where Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen make regular trips to the Stanzi Rib Motel is possible.

If that is not the scenario that transpires, Stanzi's going over 300 yards and we'll all start gnawing whatever is handy. Table. Blanket. Whiskey bottle. Misplaced baby.

Key Matchup: Cam Gordon versus big long touchdowns. He must bounce back or we dead.

Special Teams

Michigan is still not good. One positive: Will Hagerup is moving away from his freshman jitters and Michigan has achieved mediocrity in net punting despite getting one blocked. Kick and punt returns are still poor; kickoffs are still poor; field goal kicking is a wasteland.

Iowa has a significant advantage in returns, but their special teams were the primary reason they lost to Arizona. They had a punt blocked and allowed a kickoff return TD. Their punter is great but thanks to that block they're well below average in net punting; their kicker is a freshman who is 2/3 on the year.

When there are punts Iowa has a slight advantage because their return situation has been better and their punter more consistent; kickoffs are probably another small Iowa advantage since Michigan can't get them deep; field goals bleeeergghgh.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Shaw is not healthy and getting the majority of the carries.
  • Taylor Lewan's quick start is brought to a crashing halt by Clayborn and Co.
  • Um… defense stuff.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Kenny Demens is some kind of crazy gamer who hates practice.
  • Iowa does not adapt to the spread.
  • Crazy new package is crazy new and good and they've got something for the second half.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Hey This Is Basically Michigan State Again, –1 for But That Game Coulda Shoulda Woulda Been Competitive Without Denard's Very Bad Day, +1 for Denard's Very Bad Day, –1 for Vague Unsupportable Feeling That Iowa's Defense Is Quaintly Outdated Re: Spread, +1 for Stanzibombs Away, +1 for Arizona Won By Doing Crazy Special Teams Things And Our Only Equivalent Is Missing A Field Goal Spectacularly)

Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Must Kill 2009 == 2010 Meme Please, +1 for Would Put Rodriguez Well En Route To Sticking Around To Kill People With Denard The Next Two Years, –1 for Would Be A Totally Understandable Loss, +1 for But Man Don't We Need A Crazy Upset, +1 for Bowl Eligible, Baby)

Loss will cause me to... spend two weeks putting everyone who says "2009 == 2010" on my naughty list.

Win will cause me to... buy tickets to every bowl game with a Big Ten tie-in.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

IME, the game hinges on how effectively Michigan can run the ball against an intimidating-looking defense that's a paper tiger on… uh… paper. Iowa State and Arizona both threw the ball most of the time; Penn State is incompetent. They haven't faced a running spread team this year; last year a significantly weakened Michigan team put up 200 rushing yards. It is possible that Michigan comes out with a bunch of new stuff and gashes Iowa by optioning off that DL and getting to a questionable situation at middle linebacker. Iowa could just be an okay rush defense and Michigan could be the hot ninja stuff we've all been watching.

I don't think that's the case. Though the Hawkeyes will give up yards and points they won't give up enough to combat what should be another frustrating day defensively, where the defense looks competent for stretches here and there in between crippling big plays. Stanzi and company against this secondary is going to be trouble.

Michigan's best bet on D is for the run defense to be considerably better against Robinson than it was against Michigan State and for Iowa's coaches to run or die trying. Then maybe the Iowa offensive line will be porous and the receivers have an off day.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan win, but I'm not expecting it. Special teams are the final dagger. Michigan will probably have to be +1 in TO margin to win.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Hopkins: six carries.
  • Kenny Demens is way more aggressive than Ezeh, resulting in a couple plays where Adam Robinson is stuffed and at least one 20-yard gain directly attributable to him. Ezeh still gets most of the playing time.
  • Robinson's accuracy bounces back significantly.
  • Iowa, 34-28.



October 15th, 2010 at 2:55 PM ^

One thing I don't remember seeing anyone discuss - how does last year's Orange Bowl factor into the discussion, if at all?  Iowa absolutely shut down Georgia Tech's triple option, Nesbitt and Dwyer couldn't do a thing.  People have been bringing up last year's Michigan/Iowa game as a positive, but others have pointed out that Iowa was not expecting and was not preparing for Denard.  Given time to prepare for Georgia Tech Iowa was pretty dominant, and now they've had a bye week to prepare specifically for Denard.  Can anyone make a case that this (last year's Orange Bowl) is not a relevant data point?  It's freaking me out.


October 15th, 2010 at 2:57 PM ^

- DR is due to convert some deep balls right??....wright… Right!!

- CAM turns in to his name (Center Attacking Midfielder) and gets the coveted Rick-Six  

- We hit 1/2 FGs and that is the difference

Mich 31 Iowa 28 and the Heisman gets officially powered by Dilithium


October 15th, 2010 at 3:02 PM ^

I live about an hour SW of Columbus and as you can imagine this week has been one of the most annoying this year....Deanards not that good...Were number 1..blah blah blah....I feel that last week was nothing like last year...we just had a bad game..bad decisions..just not good football. I could tell in the post game presser that Denard was ansy to just get back out there tomorrow and rebound big....I feel hes gonna have a great game with Michigan winning 35-24....lets shut these suckeyes up for me...Go Big Blue!!!!!!


October 15th, 2010 at 9:06 PM ^

last I check Iowa wasnt a huge offencive threat...they put up what 24 on Penn State and Indianas offence was alot better than Iowas and we gave up 32...soooo 24 isnt that crazy..check back in with me around 8 oclock tomorrow kiddo


October 15th, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^ the turnover battle, Denard makes good on his promise to the team never to play that poorly again, Demens brings out his inner-DEMON, the secondary doesn't play craptacularly, Ezeh is in full-on bench splinter-getter spectator-only mode and the jackass behind my seats keeps his jackassardly Michigan fair weather fan trap shut on gameday, we'll win.  The last bit about the dummy behind me won't happen and we'll lose a close one, 28-34.  NO WAIT, the dummy behind me is just that, a dummy, and will have no bearing on the outcome of the game!  Therefore, we win 35-31!  Rejoice everyone!

Well done, Brian but I repectfully disagree with your final prediction.

Sgt. Wolverine

October 15th, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^

Brian is back to his pessimistic self this time, which means Michigan might win.  This contrasts with his preview last week, which gave reason for optimism.  When Brian displays any sort of optimism, I get worried.


October 15th, 2010 at 3:10 PM ^

hates to put a safety in the box because that's not his philosophy.  He likes to keep both back deep to prevent big plays.  Norm Parker is not the guy who likes to blitz a lot and he gives SAM LB a lot of responsibilties since he has to do a lot more than your typical SAM LB would do in a regular defense.

When facing spread offense, he simply takes the LB off and put in DB in.  I'm betting that Parker will do the same thing as last year to ensure that they get some speed to combat against Michigan's spread offense.


Believe it or not, Michigan offense actually match up pretty well against Iowa defense because of the reasons stated from above in my post.  If Iowa have 6 men in the box, there is absolutely no reason for Michigan not to run over 200 yards because 6 men in the box meaning that every blockers will get them sans the backside player which means that the TE/H-backs will have an extra player to block downfield.  This could lead to big plays especially if Denard runs QB iso play.


October 15th, 2010 at 3:32 PM ^

I am perfectly happy watching Michigan grind out 4-5-6 yards per carry without any big plays.  That means the offense will be on the field for a long time, keeping the defense on the sidelines.  As long as we can convert in the red zone, long drives with more rushing plays than passing could be exactly what is needed to win (as opposed to quick-strike big plays like in the Indiana game).


October 15th, 2010 at 4:05 PM ^

Although I don't know how this will affect how Iowa's defense approaches this week, I don't think Norm Parker will be at the game.  I'm not sure if their defense has operated any different since he's been out and who has been calling the defensive plays during the game...


But I hope you are right with how Iowa approaches it!


October 15th, 2010 at 4:19 PM ^

The key matchup in the passing game is very obviously Denard's Arm vs. Butterflies.  As in the ones in his stomach.  I don't think his inaccuracy is any more complicated than that.  The vast majority of his misses are on a line, but ten yards long.  Nerves, plain and simple.


October 15th, 2010 at 4:30 PM ^

Has it been confirmed that Kenny Demens is starting for sure? Or is it only speculation from RR saying Demens might see some pt?


October 15th, 2010 at 5:12 PM ^

he should see significant playing time.

Here's the comments from Rodriguez that started the talk, via Unverified Voracity:

"In the last game, we played quite a few in the secondary and a few guys up front, but we didn't rotate a lot of guys at linebacker, and that's something we have to look at this week. ... Particularly if they have a good week in practice. ... Kenny Demens in particular has had some real good practices and has shown some pretty good things when he's had an opportunity out there. So it looks like they've warranted the opportunity to see what they can do in the game."


October 15th, 2010 at 6:43 PM ^

"... opportunity to see what they can do in the game ..." as meaning more than a few plays to get his feet wet -- I'll guess they'll put him in for two or three complete series (depending on duration) and take it from there. Especially if Iowa scores early with Ezeh in -- what is there to lose at that point?


October 15th, 2010 at 7:29 PM ^

I think the coaches would be smart to install a round of passing packages with Forcier.  Like MSU, Iowa will be well prepared for Denard & a couple of series w/ Tate would throw them off (like Denard did last year until the INT). 

Not sure why the coaches did not do this against MSU, the pass was there, Tate is at least the more experienced passer we have.


October 15th, 2010 at 7:53 PM ^

I reside with henri in the land of ennui when it comes to this game due to Stanzi and the hawks d-line but I'd like to see some more of Koger and Webb catching the ball in the second and third quarters and then back to the read-option/qb lead and roundtree naked on the slanty thing in the first and fourth. Please Demens stay in your gap and tackle. Just doing that will cement the starting job...If Denard breaks 100 on the ground we win.Go Blue, win it and rest!


October 15th, 2010 at 7:53 PM ^

I reside with henri in the land of ennui when it comes to this game due to Stanzi and the hawks d-line but I'd like to see some more of Koger and Webb catching the ball in the second and third quarters and then back to the read-option/qb lead and roundtree naked on the slanty thing in the first and fourth. Please Demens stay in your gap and tackle. Just doing that will cement the starting job...If Denard breaks 100 on the ground we win.Go Blue, win it and rest!

U Fer M

October 15th, 2010 at 8:06 PM ^

If Michigan's offense can score in the 30's tomorrow, they have a chance. If they leave a lot of points on the field and score 10 or 17, Michigan will have no chance. M's defense will give up at least 28 to good teams, maybe more, so it's up to the offense to keep em in the game.

Edward Khil

October 15th, 2010 at 9:47 PM ^

I think Brian nailed it there.  This Michigan offense can definitely move the ball against any defense.  But we're not likely to see many 40-, 50, or 87-yard plays against decent Big Ten teams.  The O may not fly down the field; but it should be able to matriculate with the best of them.

Whether or not Michigan wins depends on turnovers, particularly in this game, but also in the rest of the schedule.  If M turns it over, it's a likely score.  If M grabs a turnover, it's a likely score.

Prediction: the rest of the year, aside from OSU, if Michigan wins the turnover battle, they win the game.  And vice-versa.