Michigan vs. Iowa Primer

Going to the game…a tailgate… maybe just the day with watching with friends on TV? Don't be caught off guard with what happens on the field, Saturday. Know your opponent with the Iowa Primer.

Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.

#14 Iowa (4-1) at #24 Michigan (5-1)
The Hawkeyes haven't given up a rushing touchdown in 2010.

Iowa Schedule:
(W) Eastern Illinois 37-7
(W) Iowa State 35-7
(L) at Arizona 34-27
(W) Ball State 45-0
(W) Penn State 24-3

Michigan Schedule:
(W) UCONN 30-10
(W) at Notre Dame 28-24
(W) UMASS 42-37
(W) Bowling Green 65-21
(W) at Indiana 42-35
(L) Michigan State 37-17       

Iowa Players to Watch:
QB Ricky Stanzi (Sr. #12) 22-5 as a starter; 10 TD's, two INT's in 2010; known to throw the pick-six.
RB Adam Robinson (So. #32) Set Freshman rushing record in 2009; 480 yds, 6 TD's in 2010
WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (Sr. #15) Has led Iowa in receiving in each of the past three seasons
DE Adrian Clayborn (Sr. #94) Named to numerous preseason All-America teams.
S Tyler Sash (Jr. #9) Has 11 career interceptions.

Both the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes have a single loss on their slate and while there is debate whether Michigan's loss to Michigan State is a blip to a successful season or an indication of some greater problem, it's pretty clear why and how Iowa earned their loss in Tucson. It was self-inflicted.

Iowa had a punt blocked, and a pass deflected and returned for a pick-six. Iowa trailed 14-0 in the game's first five minutes with Arizona having  just 13 yards of total offense. When the Hawkeyes finally scored in the opening minute of the 2nd quarter, they allowed a 100-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, and trailed by 14 again. They would be down 20 by half. Iowa would make a game of it by tying it 27-27 midway through the fourth quarter, but the defense finally surrendered their only drive-sustaining touchdown and lost by seven. Fatigue could have been a factor. The game on the west coast ended around 1am local Iowa time.

Observations from Last Year's Game
Turnovers were costly to the Wolverines as they gave the ball and the game to the Hawkeyes in a 30-28 loss in Iowa City. Michigan coughed it up five times; the last one coming in the final minute on a Denard Robinson (So. #16) pass to Brett Greenwood (Sr. #30) that appeared to be intended for the Hawkeye safety. Robinson would replace Tate Forcier (So. #5) in the fourth quarter and led Michigan to a quick score to get within two points. In perhaps what may have been the most controversial coaching move of the season, Coach Rich Rodriguez stayed with Robinson with the game on the line in the final two minutes. Although Forcier was having a poor game, the fans still saw him as the heroic wunderkind who led the team to three fourth quarter comebacks in just five games. In hindsight, with Robinson's accomplishments and abilities, the harsh stance critics took towards that decision has been softened.

For the second straight week, the defense started strong by getting an interception early. Donovan Warren returned a Ricky Stanzi (Sr. #12) pass for 40 yards and the score. The Wolverines also thwarted a Hawkeyes attempt from scoring at the one yard line early in the fourth quarter. However, the Wolverine defensive couldn't overcome the missed assignments that resulted in two Stanzi touchdown passes, including the game winner. The irony was hard to digest because the Iowa plays were reminiscent of Michigan's old bread and butter, "the waggle" made famous by the '97 Championship team. Both times the Michigan safeties bit hard on the fake handoff to the left. Stanzi, on a naked bootleg, found Tony Moeaki, whose touchdown scores of 34  and 42 yards came untouched.

It should be noted that many feared Michigan would be unprepared to play in this hard-hitting, physical match-up. The Wolverines dished out the punishment just as much as they received.

A Stout Defense
Iowa returned eight defensive starters from last year's team needing to replace two linebackers and corner Amari Spivey, who's now with the Detroit Lions playing safety and apparently recovering on-side kicks. All three were drafted to the NFL. This year's defense doesn't appear to be missing both of their captains that much.

Their players are obviously being ‘coached-up' very well. The three NFL departures averaged a three-star rating as preps coming to Iowa, according to Scout. On this year's defense, only four of the top 13 players who see a lot of action are four-stars, three are three-stars and six are two or below.

Adrian Clayborn (AP Photo by Charlie Neibergall)

Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker (currently on leave due to complications to diabetes), and his staff and are very well respected in the coaching community. They have finished in the top ten nationally in scoring defense the past two seasons. Given time to prepare, Iowa's defensive schemes have been outstanding. With more than a month to prepare for Georgia Tech's seemingly unstoppable triple-option, in the 2010 Orange Bowl, the Hawkeye defense made the Ramblin' Wreck a train wreck. Iowa held Tech, whose offense was as potent as Michigan's is now, to 29 yards of total offense in the first half. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt completed only two passes the entire game for the ACC Champs.

The tenacity of the defense starts up front where four of the five guys they rotate in their 4-3 scheme, are seniors. Pre-Season All-American Adrian Clayborn (Sr. #94) is getting the Brandon Graham treatment, meaning teams are scheming to neutralize him. However, that is allowing guys like Mike Daniels (Jr. #93) and Karl Klug (Sr. #95) to lead the team with a combined 13.5 tackles-for-loss.

"Their front four is as good as anybody's in the country," says Rodriguez. "They know their scheme. They're very good at it. They'll blitz when they have to on occasion, and they'll change things up. But they're so good up front that they can get pressure with a four-man front. They can stop the run with their four-man front and playing their base defense against just about anybody."

Match-Ups: Michigan Offense vs. Iowa Defense
The Hawkeyes are ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (10.2 points per game), second in rushing defense (63.2 yards per game) and fourth in total defense (242.2 yards per game).

The Wolverines are ranked No. 3 in the nation in total offense (533.7 yards per game), sixth in rushing (297.3 yards per game), and 14th in scoring (37.33 points per game). Both sets of numbers would be better if Iowa didn't play Arizona and if Michigan didn't play Michigan State, so it's likely both sets of numbers will continue to balance out as the competition increases.

Iowa had their bye-week this past Saturday and even though Parker hasn't been able to be with the team, the Hawkeyes are benefitting from the extra time of defending the Michigan offense and in particular, Robinson.

"He's (Robinson) very dangerous. It really makes it a challenge for you defensively when you play a team like this, and that's kind of what we're looking at here," says Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz (pronounced Fair-rintz, rhymes with parents).

"He puts pressure on you because you may think he's going to run it and then he pulls up and throws it down the field. He's got that ability. If guys get aggressive, the guys are responsible for passes first. If they get too aggressive, we're going to get burned on that. And then conversely if you wait for him to get across the line, he's not easy to catch. He's got great speed, and he's proven to be very durable, as well. So it puts a lot of pressure on you."

The big question of the week after the MSU game is whether Michigan's offense can no longer dominate now that they are meeting the tough physical defenses of the Big 10. The rushing numbers decreased significantly and Robinson wasn't very accurate, throwing three interceptions. Wolverine receivers didn't help matters by dropping catchable balls. Both Rodriguez and Robinson mentioned ‘missed reads' as part of the problem. Many of the players who spoke out feel they are correctable.

Karl Klug (AP Photo by Charlie Neibergall)

With Michigan State last week, Iowa this week and Penn State's physical defense on the horizon, the offensive backfield may have to adjust expectations on the wealth of opportunities for big plays in comparison to what they saw during the first five games.

"I think it gives us kind of a reality check, like a wakeup call," says Patrick Omameh (So. #65) on the lack of production against MSU. "Like coming in, we were having 500+ yards every week and that is something that we had grown accustomed to. It is something that is not going to just happen every week, we got to come in and we got to be prepared to execute especially against teams that have better defenses in order for us to put up numbers that we want."

To do that, the entire backfield may have to realize that unlike at the beginning of the season when they were being instructed to be patient and wait for the holes to emerge, they may no longer have that luxury to hesitate. The backfield will have to be decisive and attack holes that could be half the size they've grown accustomed to.

"No question," says Rodriguez. "They don't stay blocked. If you get these guys blocked, you're not going to keep them blocked for long. There are not a lot of people that have success on kind of delayed things with them because they are so good at getting off blocks and not just their front four but their linebackers as well. If there is a hole or crease, you'd better hit it quick."

Iowa players may have tipped their hand earlier this week revealing the fundamentals to stopping Robinson. Their main mission appears to keep him from running outside and that the first Hawkeye he approaches must force Robinson to go towards more Iowa teammates.

"You make him stop his feet, then you ‘re going to give other guys time to get to the ball and help out with the tackle," says linebacker Tyler Nielsen (Jr. #45). "That's the plan make him think, make him uncomfortable. You want to give him one way to go and then get guys going where he's going to be going. That's the plan this week."

As far as the passing game goes, teams have been avoiding the side that Shaun Prater (Jr. #28) is manning at left corner and instead they're challenging Micah Hyde (So. #18). Prater is the experienced corner while Hyde won his spot over less than thrilling competition that lasted through August. Just like Michigan's corners, Hyde is learning the hard way. Both safeties Greenwood and Tyler Sash (Jr. #9), who were starters last season are more than dependable stopping the run and the pass.

At linebacker Jeremiha Hunter (Sr. #42) is the real deal, but this position group has been hit hard with injuries. In their last game against Penn State, the Hawkeyes played with 3rd string MLB and true freshman James Morris (#44). Utility linebacker Troy Johnson (Sr. #48) will step-in this week marking the 3rd different linebacker to start in the middle.

For Michigan, WR Martavious Odoms (Jr. #9) broke his foot during the Michigan State game is having/had surgery and may miss the remainder of the season.

While this defense is very gap sound and solid defensively, even they have a concern about Michigan's tempo and team speed, especially that of Robinson. When asked if they had anyone on the Scout team to portray Robinson, Ferentz was honest.

"No, not really. I mean, we're fooling around, but if we had somebody like that, we'd probably be running that same offense, I guess…We run okay on defense. I wouldn't describe us as slow. But we don't have anybody with his speed… I hope we're not chasing him from behind, because we're going to lose."

Match-Ups: Michigan Defense vs. Iowa Offense
Stanzi has put the drama in the offense. He gives the opponent a chance to win with his jaw dropping interceptions that often results in returns for touchdowns. Stanzi also has Iowa fans jumping out of their seats with pin-point accuracy and clutch throws that seals wins late in the game. One thing the two fan bases will have in common Saturday is that everyone will be gasping together when Stanzi throws the long ball.

Stanzi's big play target is Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (Sr. #15), known by the locals as D.J.K. He's a reasonably good bet to be the only Hawkeye ever to lead the team in receiving in all four seasons.

He has been productive," Ferentz said. "He's come up with a lot of big plays for us, a lot of deep balls where he's made some good plays. He's done a lot of good things for us, been a real good player."

D.J.K. is a bit of a wild-card though. He's been benched several times in his career and more recently been banned from speaking to the media. As an example of why he's no longer available to talk to reporters, D.J.K. left this last message on his social website a couple of weeks ago.

Ricky Stanzi (AP Photo by Carolyn Kaster)

"Coach Killjoy and Mr. Fun-Haver have reached a mutual agreement - Playing time over T.V. time! Some may be disappointed with my decision, but I feel it is unnecessary to jeopardize this opportunity for a few media sound bites. See you in January!"

D.J.K. needs 67 yards to pass Tim Dwight's school record of 2,271 career receiving yards. He'll probably be the first Hawkeye wide receiver to make the NFL in about a decade. Their wide receivers coach, former Wolverine, Erik Campbell, who coached Braylon Edwards, Amani Toomer, David Terrell, Mario Manningham and a host of others from 1995-2007, is in his third year with the Hawkeyes.

While the Wolverine defense gave up some big plays to Michigan State this week, only three plays over 20 yards were done via the pass. That's surprising considering the array of targets the Spartans have at receiver and tight end. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking but the secondary could be getting better and James Rodgers (Sr. #18) should be 100% after missing the second half of last week's game.

This Iowa team would be far more dangerous as an offense if they were fully loaded as many thought they would be at the beginning of the season. The Hawkeyes had three record setting backs ready to split time, but one, Brandon Wegher left the team for undisclosed reasons and the other, Jewel Hampton (So. #27) Injured his knee at Arizona and is out for the season. That leaves Adam Robinson (So. #32), who set the Hawkeye freshman rushing record last season as the lone proven back. Robinson isn't used to carrying the ball 20-25 times per game, but that's what is going to be expected of him the rest of the way. At Michigan, having a featured back is normal. At Iowa it isn't.

Defensively, in order to win games, the Wolverines must finally stop making  the gap fill mistakes plaguing this team for three years. Defensive End Ryan Van Bergen (Jr. #53) finally addressed one of the big gorillas in the room earlier this week.

Looking at the film (Michigan State), we just didn't play gap sound football," says Van Bergen. "Against the run, you have to be in the right gaps, everybody has to meet their gaps and you can't have guys trying to make plays in gaps they shouldn't be in and unfortunately, we had a little bit of that, which we haven't had in practices and stuff."

Look to see if Kenny Demens (So. #25), Mark Moundros (Sr. #44) and/or Kevin Leach (Jr. #52) gets some playing time over Obi Ezeh (Sr. #45) and Jonas Mouton (Sr. #8). The reason they haven't, already, indicates the back-ups have their own issues not easily identifiable.

Iowa's offensive game plans have been conservative in nature under Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe. They lean heavily on the run behind a physical line. Just when Iowa starts to establish a pattern on offense, they'll hit you with the play-action pass to D.J.K. or to the tight end. As much as people knock Stanzi as a quarterback he has thrown 10 TD's compared to two INT's this year. Despite Michigan's defensive deficiencies, I don't expect the Hawkeyes to be "bombs away" with their passing game or pushing the envelope with fourth down attempts. This one should be tense.


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