|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)|
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- 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.