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.
#23 Michigan (7-3) (5-1) vs. Iowa (4-6) (2-4)
(L) Alabama (in Dallas Tx) 41-14
(W) Air Force 31-25
(W) UMASS 63-13
(L) at Notre Dame 13-6
(W) at Purdue 44-13
(W) Illinois 45-0
(W) Michigan State 12-10
(L) at Nebraska 23-9
(W) at Minnesota 35-13
(W) Northwestern 38-31 OT
Iowa Players to Watch:
What a win means for Michigan: An unbeaten streak at home for two straight seasons; the senior class’s first win over the Hawkeyes; a New Year’s Day bowl berth.
What a win means for Iowa: A fourth consecutive victory over Michigan;
What Iowa Brags About: 34 players in the NFL; the most bowl wins and best bowl winning percentage than any other Big Ten school (2002-2012); a +10 turnover margin against Michigan in their past three victories;
Starting running back Mark Weisman (So. #45) is doubtful (groin injury).
Starting Fullback Brad Rogers (Jr. #38) (unknown injury) is questionable.
Starting left tackle Brandon Scherff (broken leg) is out for the season since the Penn State game.
Starting right guard Andrew Donna (knee) is out for the season since the Penn State game.
Iowa has started four different left guards in their last four games.
Starting linebackers James Morris (Jr. #44)
The Last Time They Met
With time running out, the Wolverines failed to score a touchdown on four passes inside the four yard line and lost 24-16. The game concluded with a lot of second guessing in Ann Arbor. Some argued that Michigan should have run the ball at least once, but without any timeouts, a failure to score off a run would have ended the game. Others also questioned the officiating as Junior Hemmingway secured the ball before falling into the back of the end zone. While gripping both ends of the ball with both hands, the ball fell flush against the turf and officials ruled it incomplete. While fans griped about the ruling, Michigan benefited from the same call in the Sugar Bowl when Danny Coale appeared to have a touchdown in overtime. Officials overturned the score when the ball was seen hitting the turf despite the ball appearing to be secure in Coale’s hands.
Even if the touchdown was given, Michigan would have still had to complete a two-point conversion just to force overtime. The Wolverines uncharacteristically had difficulties moving the football against an average Iowa defense. Michigan had only 323 yards of total offense plus two turnovers. The Wolverines did make it exciting by moving the ball very effectively moving 79 yards in the final 2:15.
Iowa is Cursed at Running Back
Can you name Michigan’s fifth string running back? Now imagine having to do that for a good portion of the last three years. The Hawkeyes are so thin at running back they nearly ran out of scholarship running backs. After the starting fullback didn’t work out, they had to use the 2nd string fullback to handle the load. The good news is that Iowa usually get decent to great production out of anyone they use. The bad news is they don’t get to play very long.
In 2009, the Hawkeyes were stacked with three backs that were freshman record holders. Jewell Hampton had the freshman rushing record for touchdowns (7) the previous year. That record lasted one season as Brandon Wegher rushed for eight touchdowns including the insurance touchdown in the Orange Bowl victory. At the time, his freshman teammate Adam Robinson broke the record for most yards by a 1st year player. So here’s a brief look at how the dominos fell:
Hampton (1) blows out his knee and eventually transfers. Wegher (2) leaves Iowa for personal reasons two days into 2010 fall camp. Robinson (3) nearly had 1,000 yards rushing in 2010 before being suspended and eventually dismissed. Freshman Marcus Coker starts in the 2010 Insight Bowl and rushes for 215 yards. The following season Coker (4) is 2nd leading rusher in the Big Ten until getting suspended and eventually dismissed right before the 2011 reappearance in the Insight Bowl. His back-up Mika’il McCall (5) broke his ankle in the season opener and opted to transfer before the Bowl game. Then-freshman Jordan Canzerri (So. #33), who saw action on special teams last year against Michigan, started the Bowl game and had two touchdowns. Canzerri (6), tore his ACL during spring practice in March. Sophomore De'Andre Johnson (7) was dismissed over the summer. Incoming freshman Barkley Hill (8) tears his ACL and is out for 2012. Two running backs on the roster remained; Damon Bullock (So. #32) (9) and incoming freshman Greg Garmon (#4) (10). Both players have missed games due to injuries but since they weren’t ACL tears or suspensions, they’ve been lucky, but it’s still early in their Iowa careers.
For a more detailed chronology and the off-field incidents that shortened their Iowa careers
Ferentz Under Fire
Running issues aside, when a team struggles, fans look and point at the coaches. Head coach Kirk Ferentz (pronounced ‘Fair entz’ not ‘Fur rents’) is the dean of Big Ten coaches. He’s led Iowa since 1999, and has been one of the most respected coaches in the game. His name has always been a source of speculation for new coaching jobs, including at Michigan at the end of 2007, but has always and almost immediately shoots down any interest in another position. His loyalty has endeared him to many fans in Iowa’s heartland.
Most years under Ferentz, Iowa football has overachieved based on their talent. He’s a three time conference Coach of the Year. Iowa has played in two BCS bowls; has won a share of two Big Ten titles, and a Heisman runner-up in Brad Banks in 2002. So when only 11 starters were scheduled to return for 2012, many gave the program the benefit of the doubt. When one has coached for 14 years at the same school, there’s bound to be peaks and valleys. Ferentz has already experienced them, but just as the coach’s seat gets uncomfortably warm Iowa responds and rebounds with an excellent season. The Hawkeyes went 19-19 in three seasons from 2005-2007, but by the ’09 season they won the Orange Bowl in a defensive clinic shutting down Georgia Tech’s triple option.
Since then, Iowa’s win total has decreased in each of the past three seasons. First, it was a late season collapse with eight wins in 2010, then last year they disappointed at 7-6. With Michigan and Nebraska remaining on the schedule, everyone knows it’s likely Iowa will finish 4-8, their worst record since the 2000 season. The media is trying to get Ferentz to admit it the significance and magnitude this season has brought. Some have even offered advice asking if he plans to hire a full-time recruiting coordinator to help bolster the talent. Ferentz doesn’t want to admit anything because it’s an admission to a conclusion that paves the way for acceptance which can lead to players giving up on the season.
Though some people grumble, and others get irate, even more are resigned to a degree of acceptance that this is the way it is. They know Ferentz isn’t going anywhere with a contract that lasts through 2020 and a huge buyout, but they also know the Hawkeyes have been down this road before. Ferentz will be rebuilding this team for the third time which means he’s been very successful the previous two attempts.
Their Season So Far
Ferentz has kept his coaching staff together longer than most. Until this season, both coordinators was with Ferentz from the very beginning back in 1999, but both left at the end of last season. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker retired. His defenses were ranked in the top 10 in scoring in ’08, ’09, and ’10. Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr talked about him often and respected him greatly. TV analysts used Norm as a fill-in-the blank- cliché when saying, “Give (blank) more than a week to prepare and (blank) will stop…” Locally, they loved Norm as much as Michigan fans love Mattison. With 2002 being an exception, Iowa won with defense.
Ken O’Keefe, who was the offensive coordinator decided to pursue other interests in the NFL. Iowa turned to former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis, to revitalize the offense with depleted running backs and a lack of depth at offensive line. Most known for coaching Vince Young, Davis hasn’t brought any offensive excitement Iowa has been looking for since Ricky Stanzi left. The inevitable question is would Ferentz let him anyway?
Ferentz is a throwback when it comes to coaching philosophy. It’s pro-style with a lot of involvement with the tight end. They practice a base offense and defense and execute it well, but they don’t blitz and the play calling especially at times when the game is on the line is more conservative than Karl Rove. Iowa usually punts on 4th and short, they like to take a knee before half, and they throw short of the sticks on 3rd down and hope to make a play in space.
In the 2005 Michigan game, Iowa had all the momentum and their offense was knifing through the Michigan defense. It all but looked over for the Maize and Blue until Iowa inexplicably positioned themselves for a game tying field goal with plenty of time left instead going for the win. It was like they literally picked Michigan up off the mat and gave them a redo. Iowa hit the field goal, but Michigan won in overtime to give Lloyd Carr his 100th win. The loss snapped a 22 game home winning streak for Iowa.
Ironically Ferentz’s last win came in overtime at Michigan State where a sloppy field benefitted Iowa’s conservative ways. That and a lucky bounce on a deflected pass that went through two sets of hands before being caught by Greg Castillo (Sr. #2).
Since then it’s been a four game losing streak. While some insist putting perfume on a skunk, by making the Michigan State argument that they’ve played a lot of close games, look at the competition at the top of this article. It’s one thing for a team to be just short of beating Oregon, Kansas State and Alabama; these close games have come against Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Central Michigan, MSU, Indiana and Purdue. Not exactly murder’s row. The Hawkeyes are 2-4 in those games. Iowa’s best home win is Minnesota.
Now take a look at the Legends Division in the future as a whole. Nebraska is likely to win the division this year and their conference schedule the next two years gets easier. Michigan will undoubtedly get better for obvious reasons. MSU has been a factor the past few years despite their setback. Northwestern is trending up in talent, facilities and are three double digit collapses away from being undefeated, and Minnesota won three more games this year and is going bowling. All six teams can’t stay on top. Some are going to have to fall. Who’s more likely at this point? Iowa not only needs to get healthy but they need to replenish the NFL talent on the lines and on defense that they’ve lost. Starting in 2013, the Hawkeyes drop Indiana, and Penn State from their schedule and add Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Losing to Purdue 27-24, the Hawkeyes lost their fourth straight game for the first time since 1999. In the final minute, Iowa was on the verge of getting a come from behind victory. Just out of field goal range, and with the score tied, Ferentz elected to go for it on 4th and 3. Vandenberg’s completion to tight end Zach Derby was short of the first down. With only 16 seconds left in regulation, Purdue quarterback Robert Marve took off for 17 yds and then hit a 20 yard pass to Antavian Edison to put them in field goal range. The ensuing 46 yard kick was good and Purdue ended a five game losing streak, while Iowa ended almost all hope of making a bowl game.
The Iowa Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense
Even with all the troubles at running back the Hawkeyes thought they found another diamond in the turf with back-up fullback Mark Weisman (So. #45). In a four game stretch he averaged 156 ypg including a 217 yard pounding on Central Michigan. Alas, his last significant carry was the late game tying touchdown at Michigan State. On the run he injured his ankle. He played in the Northwestern game, but injured his groin in the first half. The running game hasn’t been the same. In their four game losing streak, Iowa is averaging 78 rushing yards per game which includes games against Indiana and Purdue which are very bottom of the Big Ten.
Michigan’s defensive reputation against the rush took a bit of a hit last week, but two of the four most dangerous players in the Big Ten, play in the same backfield. Kain Colter and Venric Mark are the conference’s biggest game breakers after Denard Robinson (Sr. #16) and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. Iowa doesn’t have anyone close to that. Garmon and Bullock tend to rush better on the outside, yet Iowa is content on trying to run between the tackles. With two starting lineman out for the season on a line that was thin to begin with in August, Michigan should bounce back defensively.
What’s wrong with James Vandenberg (Sr. #16) is a bit of a mystery. It’s easier to stop a throwing quarterback when the team can’t run, but Vandenberg is missing open targets and is overthrowing receivers on sideline routes. He has only five touchdown passes all season. Devin Gardner (Jr. #12) has four already. Both quarterbacks have three rushing touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes are tied for sixth in the NCAA in fewest turnovers (9), but if they kept statistics for offenses that go 3 & out, Iowa and Illinois would probably battle for the conference lead.
The Iowa Defense vs. the Michigan Offense
The Hawkeyes have scored defensive touchdowns each of the last two weeks. Their +11 in turnover margin this season is the best in the Big Ten. Other teams with that kind of turnover margin are contending for conference championships. Most of the time the defense comes back out three plays later.
Iowa is still 29th in the FBS in scoring defense.
If this defense doesn’t blitz often with Gardner at quarterback don’t be surprised. They generally don’t aggressively dictate to an offense. They’re at the bottom of the Big Ten with only six sacks in conference play. Instead they just defend by playing straight while hitting as hard as they can, and do it fairly well despite a defensive line that came into the season thinner than Michigan’s. Uncharacteristically, tackling became an issue against Purdue last week. Some thought it was really bad for a Hawkeye team.
The linebackers on this team are very good. At least the secondary doesn’t lead the team in tackles.
The Michigan offense just needs not to turn the ball over and give the Hawkeye offense any gifts or by taking too many penalties. Does it go without saying that Gardner needs stay healthy?
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