Ia. Preview: Battle of The Returners

"Special teams will win this game." So says former Michigan staffer Mark Ouimet about Saturday's game versus Iowa. So whose special teams are better? So far Ouimet has been dead-on with his previews -- what does he say this time?

Ouimet:

This is the most important game of the year for Michigan. It will set the tone for rest of season.

Special teams will determine this game. Hopefully that means Steven Breaston will win it for the Wolverines -- he leads the nation in punt returns, at 21.1 yards a return, with one for a touchdown of 69 yards.

But Iowa does a good job at returning kicks as well. Ramon Ochoa is a two-way kick returner for them. At punt returns he averages 16.2 yards, including a 70 yard touchdown. And Michigan gives up 20.5 yards a punt, including one for touchdown vs. Oregon.

On kickoffs Jeremy LeSueur is good, although he's onlyreturned nine kicks. He averages 25.8 yards a return. Ochoa returns kickoffs for Iowas as well -- for a 21.2 yard average.

Iowa has a good punter, David Bradley, who averages 41.2. Michigan's Adam Finley averages only 35 yards.

Iowas has an outstanding kicker in Nate Keading. He hasn't missed yet, a PAT or field goal. He's five of five in field goals. Michigan is going to have to make a field goal.

The Michigan Offense vs. Iowa's Defense.

Mainly -- the Michigan offense has to take care of the ball. Michigan has lost six fumbles and five interceptions. That's 11 turnovers in four games; Michigan is 'minus 4' in turnovers for the year.

So I said special teams will win this game -- it's actually special teams and taking care of the ball.

Michigan averages 38.2 points game. But a good Iowa defense only allows10.6 points a game and 2.4 yards per rush.

Iowa will do what Oregon did. Put eight men in the box and make Michigan throw it. Michigan needs to be effective in both, they cannot be one-dimensional. Iowa will try to make Michigan one-dimensional by stopping the run. The Wolverine offensive line has to do a better job blocking, and at picking up blitzes. And Iowa will blitz. Iowa has two good linebackers in Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. And Howard Hodges has five sacks from his defensive end spot. And they will rely on safety Bob Sanders to make tackles in the secondary. They will surprise Navarre with coverages, try to confuse him, make him check down to 'hot receivers' and the tight end.

Michigan will come in trying to establish run. It'll be tough but they have to. If ALL you're doing is completing passes, it's tough to win. Perry has to gain yards on the ground as well. Expect a heavy dose of Chris Perry early. But most first downs against Iowa are passing the ball. So I think Michigan will run will be running rushing plays early but will also go to the pass early -- right from the first series -- with screens and slants. Then Perry again. And a crucial factor will be third down conversions, completing passes for first downs. And Michigan has been good on third down conversions, just about 50%.

I think Michigan will need around 350 total yards in offense to win. And Michigan also very much wants to score first. Iowa is not the type of team that comes from behind well.

The Michigan Defense vs. the Iowa Offense.

Iowa scores an average of 29.6 points a game. They had four turnovers against MSU, which was the main reason they lost. Like Michigan, they can't turn it over and win either.

Iowa has a two-dimentional offense.

Running back Fred Russell, a former Michigan signee of course, averages 123 yards a game. Michigan gives up 114 rushing yards a game -- not bad but they want it under 100.

Iowa's quarterback Nathan Chandler is new, a big guy from the JC ranks.

Iowa's best wide receiver Mo Brown has been banged up and out the last couple games. We'll see if he plays this week. Ramon Ochoa is also doing a good job at receiver, as well as at returning kicks.

Iowa is only 37% in third downs, not that great. And Michigan allows only 24% in third down conversions -- very good.

To stop Iowa's offense, Michigan needs to do same thing as Iowa will try to do -- stop Russell on the ground and make Chandler and the wide receivers try to make plays for them.

Michigan needs to come at them, to get to the quarterback. Pierre Woods has to lead the charge. Marlin Jackson, Markus Curry and Jeremy LeSueur have to have good games -- I think we'ree see corner-safety blitzes to put pressure on Chandler. Michigan needs to dig deep and stop this team. And they should be able to -- Chandler not great.

Bottom Line

Turnovers and special teams very important - that is clear. The game plans for these similar teams will be the same -- to be two-dimensional on offense, and on defense will try to stop the running game. So who has the edge? Both teams have struggled taking care of the ball. In run defense Iowa also has the edge. But John Navarre is the better quarterback. With special teams Iowa has the better kickers, and both have good returners but Michigan's are better. So we'll see what happens.

Ouimet's Prediction:

24-23 Michigan.

Michigan will shoot for a game where they don't fumble, and have no interceptions. And the kicking game cannot hut Michigan -- if there is a punt blocked it has to be for a safety, not a touchdown (ergo the 23 points for Iowa). And Michigan's returners need to have another good game. It is quite possible that the return guys will determine the outcome.

Michigan should win this game.

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