Beating Big Blue Would Get Iowa Well Again

You don't need to tell Iowa fans who is invading Kinnick Stadium this Saturday. The Michigan game always adds a little spice to the home football schedule. Speaking of which, who is in charge of scheduling the Homecoming game? What happened to the days of scheduling a sure win for Homecoming? We need Northwestern and Indiana back on the schedule … now.

The Michigan players, coaches and fans certainly know whom they play this week, they have had October 4 circled since last year when Iowa handed Michigan it's worst loss in 35 years in the famed "Big House." Michigan will no doubt be playing to avenge last year's defeat as well as get back on track, as Michigan has been very sloppy the past two Saturdays.

The Wolverines have perhaps the best balance of any offense in the Big Ten. They are third in both passing and rushing offense, but first in total offense. Quarterback John Navarre leads an offense that averages 38.2 points per game, second to only Minnesota. Navarre is exactly the type of quarterback that Iowa's defensive line feasts on. He will not run away from pressure. But despite the lack of mobility and the number of passing attempts (only Jon Beutjer has thrown more passes), Navarre has been sacked just six times in five games.

Navarre's top two targets are Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant. Edwards is supposed to be the "next great Michigan receiver." He has 29 receptions in five games, which is good for second in the conference. He has been more of a control, move-the-chains receiver with an average of 12.7 yards per catch. Second-leading receiver is sophomore Avant with 15 catches in just four games and has better yards per catch average than Edwards. If Navarre isn't airing it out, he is handing off to the Big Ten's leading rusher in Chris Perry. He averages 137.4 yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns so far this year. Other than the aforementioned Oregon game in which Perry was held to 23 yards rushing, Perry has had his way with opposing defenses.

Michigan will struggle to run the football with any efficiency against Iowa. If you remember, Big Blue came out with five wide receivers in the game last year. They were giving up on the run before the game started. Lloyd Carr and company will not keep going to the run if it's not working. They have no problem going to the pass early and often if they must to move the ball.

When you throw the ball, turnovers will likely occur. Navarre has had a tendency to throw some ill-advised passes in his career, and has thrown five interceptions in five contests this year.

The Michigan defense has been as equally impressive, minus the Oregon game. It is second in scoring defense to Iowa, allowing just 11.6 points per game, second in pass defense, fifth in rush defense and first in total defense, giving up just 247 yards per game. The defense is anchored by cornerback Marlin Jackson who was the pre-season defensive player of the year in the Big Ten. Jackson is Michigan's leading tackler mainly because teams have chosen not to thrown in his direction. Jackson is a corner who can lock up a receiver. That's not good news for Iowa who is trying to find some receivers who can find some space to catch the ball.

The U-M linebacking corp is very strong with senior Carl Diggs and junior Pierre Woods. The defensive line features Larry Stevens, who has three sacks and Patrick Massey, who has six tackles for loss. Stevens and Massey are actually defensive ends and it was the ends for Michigan State who gave Iowa fits last week.

Specials teams are not rosy for the Michigan Wolverines. The kicking game was atrocious last year -- it has improved but is still weak. Michigan is dead last in net punting with an average of 27.2 yards per punt. And here is an amazing (at least to me) statistic: Iowa has allowed just 45 punt return yards on 10 punt returns this year. Iowa's David Bradley has been terrific at getting the ball inside the 20-yard line, and when a punt is returnable the coverage team gives up nary a yard.

The U-M kickers have made five of eight field goals and have missed two extra points. Turnovers have also been a problem as Michigan is tenth with a -4 turnover ratio. The Wolverines have 11 giveaways, Navarre's five interceptions and six fumbles to just seven takeaways. Iowa is a +2, but was much better prior to last week.

Iowa needs to play a whole lot better, particularly offensively if they want to get back on the winning track. Iowa first and foremost must eliminate turnovers and penalties. Iowa's offense put the defense in a bad position time after time by turning the ball over in its own territory. The penalties put the offense in many first and longs and Iowa doesn't have the weapons to get out of holes like that. The offense needs to be able to string consecutive first downs together to let the defense rest. Iowa is last in time of possession and third worst in first downs so there is a lot of room for improvement.

Iowa's offensive line struggled mightily against an active Michigan State front that was not highly thought of. The Michigan front is not as fast but just as physical. The offensive line must protect Nate Chandler and give him time to find an open receiver. Iowa cannot let Michigan key on Russell, they must show some semblance of a passing attack or the Hawks are in big trouble.

I see a low-scoring, defensive struggle between two very good teams. Iowa should feed off a boisterous home crowd and come out on top 17-14.

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