Cagley's Steps to Victory

In this edition of Cagley's Steps to Victory, he provides his four essential points in how he believes Iowa can come out victorious this weekend. Is this the game for Iowa to make a national statement against #8 Michigan???

1. Take away Marquise Walker – Rarely does a scouting report say make the Michigan Offense run the ball and throw to the RBs, but that is what I would like to see Iowa do. Indiana methodically moved the ball down the field last week as they ran for over 300 yards against the Hawks, but almost all of their success had to do with having the great Antwaan Randle El. Michigan has always had good RBs and pride themselves on running the football, but if they try to run on Iowa straight up, Iowa will win the day with their physical front seven and SS Bob Sanders. Michigan does not have anyone that approaches Randle El in running ability, and if the injured run stopping DT Jerry Montgomery returns to the Iowa lineup, Michigan should really have a tough time on the ground.

Although the Iowa Defense is ranked 1st in the Big Ten and 7th nationally against the pass, WR Marquise Walker and the Michigan passing game does cause reason for concern. As well as David Terrell played at WR for Michigan last season, Walker has been as good or a better player this season. John Navarre is not as talented of a QB as Drew Henson, but he has played well in all of the UM home games. Expect Iowa to play a lot of cover defense with help. This strategy can win if Iowa forces Michigan into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations. If Michigan is forced into long distance situations, taking away Walker and forcing short passes should work in the end. The difference between this Iowa team and the Hawkeye squads from the last few years starts with their improvement in tackling. Short passes may work against the Indiana Defense, but the results should be different against the Hawks.

Iowa is not going to win this game by blitzing every down to stop the Michigan passing game, but if the secondary continues to play well and the defense carries out its assignments, Michigan is going to have to play great football to consistently move the ball against the Iowa Defense. The Iowa front four usually plays very big and physical, and the excitement and noise in Kinnick on Saturday should only help to improve their play.

2. Iowa needs to be able to run the ball – Michigan is only giving up an average of 52.5 yards a game on the ground this year. Most analysts would say that to beat Michigan, it is going to have to be through the air. Iowa has passed blocked well this season outside of the Purdue game, but one of the reasons for the struggles at Purdue was because the Iowa running game was non-existent. As the game went along, the Boilermakers respected the Iowa running game less and less, and eventually they pinned their ears back and completely went after QB Kyle McCann.

Big home wins are sometimes won in less than conventional fashion (like Michigan's loss at Washington this year when a blocked punt and interception won the game for the Huskies even though they couldn't move the ball). However, for Iowa to win the game, they need to find offensive balance by running the ball to open up the passing game.

LB Larry Foote has had an outstanding season leading the UM Defense. He has 14 tackles for loss. Michigan, overall, has 25 sacks and brings as much team speed as any defense Iowa will play this year. To keep Michigan from blitzing and taking advantage of its speed, Iowa must avoid 3rd and long situations and stay with RB Ladell Betts and the running game. Ladell has been playing very well in the last two weeks, and if the Iowa OL continues to improve, the Hawks may find offensive balance. As good as Michigan is on defense and as impressive as their statistics are against the run, they have not played a good running team. Iowa has had inconsistent play in their running game so far this year, but they have the potential to have a stronger run game than Illinois, Western Michigan, and other past opponents on the 2001 Wolverines schedule.

Most teams tend to open up their offense against a good defense by running spread formations to create space. For the Hawks this week, running a pro set with two WRs and one or two TEs to go with one or two RBs might be a good move. Spreading Michigan out doesn't affect them much because of their speed and experience. Maybe the only way to move the ball consistently is to pop the Wolverine speed in the mouth with the power running game between the tackles. IF they can do that, then the play-action passing and bootleg variations should be effective.

I still vote for Banks playing in short yardage situations and maybe a whole series overall, but McCann needs to be on the field on Saturday playing like a 5th year senior. Seniors usually win big games, and Iowa seniors like Betts, McCann, and WR Kahlil Hill have been looking forward to a big win in a big atmosphere for a long time. Give them and TE Dallas Clark the ball and let them use their talent.

3. Control field position and time of possession – The special teams looked better last week, but part of that was because the punt team was rarely on the field. Iowa is going to face more offensive and special teams adversity this week, but the defense should be better at holding its own. It's about time for Hill to pop another big kickoff return or punt return, and K Nate Kaeding has been silent for a few weeks.

Almost every great Hawk win over the last 20 years has had a kicker make several big kicks or a late game winning field goal. Kaeding helped to win the Penn State game last season, and he must step up if given a chance on Saturday. If the offense and special teams do not give away the ball or time of possession, the Iowa Defense is good enough to make Kaeding's kicks hold up. I am not predicting an Iowa shutout, but if the team is firing on all cylinders, 24 to 28 Hawk points is enough to overcome the Wolverine Offense. As gaudy as Michigan's defensive stats look, the Iowa Offense is capable of getting that many points, especially if they get some help in the field position battle from the special teams or defense.

Get the crowd in the game and keep them in the game – Home games against Michigan are one of the things that almost every Big Ten fan outside of Columbus, Ohio dreams about. The Wolverines are the traditional giant of the Big Ten conference; the team that everyone wants to knock off. Every week there are coaches, players, and fans all over the country that are afraid of losing to their respective opponent, even if they are favored to win. However, when teams like Michigan or Oklahoma travel to any traditional football town like an Iowa City, all of the coaches, players, and fans that usually worry about losing to lesser name teams are instead salivating over a chance at glory.

Unlike when Iowa was just playing competitively at times with Indiana or Penn State, the attitude and enthusiasm of the crowd will be much different this week if Iowa shows it has the ability to win over the Wolverines. Combine a traditional power like Michigan with the fact that it is a 2:30 ABC start, and the fans will be ready. All the team has to do for the fans to be loud and supportive is to stay competitive and provide hope.

It is always easier to be competitive and to keep the fans loud if a team doesn't turn the ball over or commit penalties. What will also make a difference this week is if the Iowa Defense plays defense the way they did against Purdue. The Iowa Offense is not going to be able to move the ball like they did against Indiana, but they don't need to. If the Iowa Defense continues to contain Michigan, the Iowa Offense has enough firepower at home to win the game.

For the first time in years, there is a buzz around the state that Iowa really has a chance going into a game against a top team. A buzzed crowd at Kinnick has to be at least worth a TD in helping the home team. If the defense comes out ready to play and doesn't make huge mistakes, the Hawks will win. The atmosphere in Kinnick was fun last season after beating Big Ten Co-Champ Northwestern, but beating Michigan will send shockwaves around the Midwest.

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