Run defense under microscope after latest loss
The run defense has been atrocious as Iowa's season teeters on a downward spiral after last Saturday's humiliating loss to lowly Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes seek a rebound against Michigan this week and there isn't much of a chance of notching an upset if the run defense continues to be as leaky as its been in its first four Big Ten contests.
Iowa is giving up an average of 194.8 rushing yards in Big Ten play and ranks 69th nationally for the season at 163.6 yards per game. The lowly Golden Gophers had 178 rushing yards and controlled the ball for nearly 13 1/2 minutes of the final quarter.
"Injuries do impede progress and we've had some of that," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Not just the defensive front, but linebackers. Linebackers are important to run stopping, too. That's what it is. It's all a matter of record.
"We're just going to keep working. The cavalry is not coming. We're not going out and picking up any free agents. Nobody is graduating midterm and coming in to help us, so we're just going to keep playing."
Iowa (5-3, 2-2) has allowed more than 200 rushing yards in two of its four conference games and will face a stiff challenge against Michigan, which ranks eighth nationally (253.3) in rushing and features multifaceted gamebreaker quarterback Denard Robinson.
Meanwhile, frustrations are running high and Iowa fans are irate after losing to hapless Minnesota for the second straight season. But Ferentz made it clear where his concerns lie.
"I'm more focused on the players' frustration and their feelings, quite frankly," he said. "That's who I really care about the most. I don't mean to sound callous -- my No. 1 responsibility is how our players are feeling and how they're reacting to things and responding to things."
--Iowa had failed to score just once in the red zone over the first seven games before going 3-for-6 in such situations in the loss to Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes will seek to relocate their early-season magic inside the opponents' 20-yard line against Michigan, which leads the nation in red zone defense at 59.1 percent. Opponents have scored against Michigan on just 13 of 22 trips inside the red zone.
--Eric Guthrie has been added to the Ray Guy watch list for the award that goes to the nation's top punter. Guthrie is averaging 42.0 yards and has placed nine punts inside the 20 in his first season as Iowa's punter.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Iowa 40-12-4 (last meeting, 2010, 38-28 Iowa).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Quarterback James Vandenberg has tossed 17 touchdowns against four interceptions but three of the miscues have come in Big Ten play. Marcus Coker is 31 yards away from a 1,000-yard season and is on his way to being known as one of the program's top all-time running backs. Marvin McNutt has 858 receiving yards and is four yards away from setting a personal-high for receiving yards. The Hawkeyes hope to have second-leading receiver Keenan Davis (30 receptions) back after he missed the Minnesota contest.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Coach Kirk Ferentz continues to insist that Iowa's shaky run defense isn't only the fault of the defensive line and he and defensive coordinator Norm Parker are looking for answers by moving around the linebackers. Leading tackle James Morris has been moved outside and injury-prone Tyler Nielsen has been moved to the middle. Morris and the other outside backer, Christian Kirksey, share the team tackle lead with 76 apiece. Iowa's pass rush has also been subpar with 12 sacks -- four by defensive tackle Mike Daniels and three by Broderick Binns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just haven't played well enough to win on the road. I don't think there's anything mystical or magical about it. Haven't played well enough on the road." -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on being 0-3 on the road after losing to Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa vs. Michigan, Nov. 5 -- The Wolverines traditionally dominate the Hawkeyes but Iowa has won the last two meetings. The Hawkeyes have never notched three straight victories over Michigan. Iowa is just 5-16-1 in 22 home games against Michigan.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Quarterback James Vandenberg will be challenged by a Michigan defense allowing just 15.3 points, seventh lowest nationally. Getting a big rushing performance from Marcus Coker (969) might help Iowa keep the ball out of the hands of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who ranks 16th in total offense. Robinson has passed for 2,104 yards and rushed for 779 more. Iowa's run defense has been weak and must slow a Michigan running attack ranks eighth nationally at 253.3 yards per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Marcus Coker -- Coming off a 252-yard performance against Minnesota that ranks as the third-best single-game rushing total in school history. Coker is only the fourth Iowa back with two career 200-yard performances and is 31 yards away from being the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Shonn Greene totaled 1,850 yards in 2008.
WR Marvin McNutt -- Has topped 100 yards receiving in five of eight games and is just 212 yards away from surpassing Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (2,616 from 2007-10) as the school's leader in career receiving yardage. McNutt is averaging 17.9 yards per catch and has nine touchdowns, two shy of the school's single-season record.
CB Micah Hyde -- The athletic corner has three of Iowa's six interceptions and his ballhawking skills will be in demand against Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who isn't the most polished thrower. Hyde is having a better season than more-hyped cornerback Shaun Prater.
--WR Keenan Davis (ankle) is expected back on the field against Michigan after missing the Minnesota contest.
--DT Tom Nardo (ankle) is making progress after missing three consecutive games and is questionable for Michigan.
--LB Anthony Hitchens (knee) could miss his fifth straight game.
The TSX Files: Iowa Midweek
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