Tasks don't get any more daunting than the one Iowa will face on Saturday night. The Hawkeyes host undefeated and third ranked Michigan. Outside of a seven point win over Wisconsin and a nine point victory over Michigan State, none of their contests have been even close.
The Wolverines defeated Hawaii by 60, Central Florida by 37, Colorado by 17, Penn State by 39, Rutgers by 78, Illinois by 33 and Maryland by 56.
By comparison Iowa has lost to North Dakota State by 2, Northwestern by 7, Wisconsin by 8, and Penn State by 27. Their victory margins are 24 over Miami Ohio, Iowa State by 39, Rutgers by 7, Minnesota by 7 and Purdue by 14. So if the game were to get tight, the only bright spot would be that the Hawkeyes have more experience in those kind of contests. But at the same time, Michigan is far more senior laden than Kirk Ferentz's bunch.
Michigan has run the ball extremely well this year with an assortment of backs that include Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, Ty Isaac, and DeVeon Smith. Jabrill Peppers isn't a weapon they go to often but he is a playmaker at their disposal. Their passing game is not nearly as explosive but it is efficient with a steady quarterback in Wilton Speight and reliable weapons such as Amara Darboh, Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson. Their offensive line was broken a couple years ago but is now back on track. It isn't a super part of their team but it is no longer a liability.
Defensively, the Wolverines are supreme. It'll be the best defense that Iowa has gone up against this year without question and probably the best overall in a couple of years. They're talented at every level. Michigan also has pretty strong depth in both the secondary and especially the defensive line. Their linebackers are good but they have struggled covering tight ends and don't possess the same kind of depth at that level.
Iowa will need to stop the run first and foremost. With the Hawkeyes struggling against teams that have run a lot of motion and jet action, expect Jabrill Peppers and Eddie McDoom to possibly be deployed more often than usual. On offense, it is difficult to see the passing game rebounding at all. Michigan is spectacular at rushing the passer and defending in the secondary. The only hope would be to utilize the tight ends and to establish some kind of running game. Trying to challenge Michigan's defense through the air early would be a fool's errand. They are the type of defense where it is imperative to run to set up the pass.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1) GET OUT EARLY - If you're Iowa you don't want to get behind early. Michigan has made it a habit to start hot and stay so you're going to want to get out to an early lead. It gives you the confidence you need to actually pull off an upset, plus it gets you crowd into it right away. Some kind of points are necessary right off the bat for the Hawkeyes.
2) KNOW WHERE PEPPERS IS - The man is all over the field. He'll play safety, linebacker, cornerback, half back, QB in the wildcat, the list goes on forever. He's dangerous on both sides of the ball and the Iowa defense needs to make sure they know when he comes on, because when he does he's likely getting the football. On the flip side, CJ Beathard needs to know where he is and if he's blitzing or not. He's an effective pass rusher.
3) USE THE PERIMETER - I watched a decent chunk of the game between Michigan and Maryland and where I saw the Terps have the most success was out on the perimeter. If Iowa is winning this game that is where they'll need to live. They aren't winning this game between the tackles like they are used to. They'll need to mix it up and get outside with some their athletes.
1) FORCE MICHIGAN TO PASS - Michigan dominates on the ground. They can surely pass the ball as well but they're more efficient than explosive in that area. They're explosive when they're stuffing the ball down your throat on the ground or using Peppers. Iowa can play bend but don't break defense and hold the Wolverines to field goal if they make Speight beat them instead of the ground attack.
2) DO NOT OVERREACT OR OVERCOMPENSATE - I mentioned early due to the Iowa defense's struggles, expect a lot of motion and jet action to throw them off which means much more Jabrill Peppers or Eddie McDoom than usual. I'll also say this; I expect them to be more of a decoy than anything. They'll try to get the Iowa defense out of their assignments and overreact to the action from Peppers and McDoom to open up other options. Peppers goes into motion and the attention and reaction from Iowa will be to go with him and harness him leaving them exposed for something else. I know Peppers is fantastic but they can not overcompensate and get caught undermanned somewhere else.
3) EFFECTIVE RUN GAME - I'll actually disagree with Dylan on this. I know that Michigan was exposed on the perimeter against Maryland. It seems like a logical area to attack. But the Terps were able to do that because they do have faster and more dynamic athletes on their offense. They're built and constructed that way. Iowa is not. The Hawkeyes don't have the speed, or dynamic athletes other than Akrum Wadley to do that so Michigan will know that tendency if he's in the game. They should use that action as a decoy but I don't see it as an area to attack. If Iowa has any edge at all, whatsoever, it is between the tackles. They might not have the edge there either but they certainly don't have the edge on the perimeter like Maryland did. They need to be more unpredictable and give Michigan much more to think about in order to be successful between the tackles, but between the tackles and yucking the game up is their only chance. But I suspect some trickery will also be needed to make this one close or to pull out a victory, on offense and special teams. Additionally, they'll need a score or two from somewhere other than their offense.
HAWK TO ROCK
On offense, I'll take Jerminic Smith. The sophomore wideout had a heck of a game last week against Penn State and it could be something to build on. Beathard clearly has more confidence in the Texas native so I would not be surprised to see him see more targets this week. Although, he'll likely see Jourdan Lewis on the other side. On defense, I think it's going to be Desmond King. This is probably his toughest assignment in a while. Penn State had Chris Godwin, but King did not see him every play. This week he'll be dealing with either Amara Darboh or Jehu Chesson, both of whom are fantastic receivers. I think he intercepts a pass and shuts down his side of the field.
I like the Jerminic Smith pick because of what he showed last week but he has too tough of a challenge with Jourdan Lewis defending him. If Michigan has any chinks in their armor on defense, it has been when their linebackers have defended the tight ends in the passing game. Is George Kittle healthy enough to produce? Nobody really knows but if he is, he can be a valuable weapon Saturday night. If not, Noah Fant will have his chances. Defensively, I see some struggles and I'm not sure there will be one. But if there is one, it comes down to stopping the run and the guys responsible for that and effective in that manner are Josey Jewell and Jaleel Johnson. NFL scouts will have their eye on this one and it's a game where Jaleel can make some more money for next year.
Michigan 40 Iowa 17
Michigan 33 Iowa 16