The Iowa offense struggled mightily on offense at Arizona State last week, scoring their lone touchdown on a punt return as time ran out in their 44-7 thumping. The Sun Devils riddled the Hawkeye attack ineffective, holding them to 105 total yards (8/19 for 45 passing and 27 attempts for 60 yards rushing) and only five first downs. Despite that paltry performance, Kirk Ferentz’s club came to Ann Arbor both confident and prepared. Their success against the Wolverines the previous few seasons left the visitors emboldened, and that was evident on the first drive.
With a reputation as a run first offense, the Hawkeyes caught the Michigan defense on their first play. A hard play-action pass from QB Drew Tate to tight end Tony Jackson for 25 yards moved the ball all of the way to midfield. The Wolverines stuffed the next two running plays, but a personal foul penalty moved the ball into Michigan territory. They gouged the defense over the middle for the second time in the drive when Tate connected with receiver Clinton Solomon for 23 yards to put the ball on the Michigan. Ed Hinkel capped things off with a spectacular one-handed grab against Marlin Jackson on a fade pattern ro give the Hawkeyes the early 7-0 lead.
The Michigan offense came out intent on responding, and when they hit the field there were a few significant lineup changes. David Baas moved over from left guard to center and Leo Henige came off the bench to man the vacated guard spot. The result was a noticeable increase in punch up the middle. Initially, the Wolverines were stumped and were set to punt after a would-be 3-and-out, but the offense gained new life when the Hawkeyes were whistled for a defensive holding penalty on one of the gunners, giving the home team an automatic first down. Fueled by steady play from Chad Henne (16/26, 236 yards, 1 TD) and Mike Hart (26 rushes, 99 yards, 1TD), Michigan made it deep into Iowa territory before Tim Bracken fumbled on a toss play.
The defense came up big after the turnover and the Hawkeyes weren’t able to equal the success they had on their first drive. Hart sparked the Michigan offense on their next possession with tough rushes up the middle and an excellent run on a screen play. He flashed his trademark elusiveness to on 12 yard jaunt deep into Iowa territory. “David Baas really helped us at center,” said Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr. “We're more physical right now. I think we have a chance to have a good line and Michael Hart can find the holes. I think Michael Hart took another big step today.” The drive stalled at the Iowa 27, but Garret Rivas continued his outstanding kicking this year with a 46 yard field to make the score 7-3 early in the second quarter.
Iowa was marching again a few minutes later thanks to a couple of 13-yard passes that took them to midfield. Then, the nation’s best defense at causing turnovers added to their total. Lawrence Reid tackled Hinkel on a ten yard reception and forced a fumble that was recovered by Ernest Shazor at the Michigan 42. The offense went for it all on the first play and Braylon Edwards (6 receptions, 150 yards, 1 TD) converted in spectacular fashion. Henne lofted a perfect high-arcing pass into the air as a streaking Edwards raced underneath. The Hawkeyes were in three-deep coverage and the DB was so far back that it looked as if he would run right under the ball and intercept it. But in was has become a common occurrence for #1, Edwards leapt above the shorter DB and snatched the ball from over his head. The play sent the corner tumbling and Edwards took it 58 yards for the TD. “I thought that was a big play when we hit Braylon,” Carr said. “I don't know how he caught that ball, but the ball was on target and he made a magnificent play to score our first touchdown.”
On the very next series, the defense forced yet another turnover when a pressured Tate overthrew his target, and first time starter Leon Hall made an outstanding grab for the interception at the Iowa 40. In a replay of the script from the previous possession, Henne hit Edwards (this time over the middle) and the senior receiver toted the pigskin 39 yards, all of the way to the 1 yard-line. Chad Henne plunged into the endzone for the touchdown, and a missed extra point gave the Wolverines a 16-10 lead at halftime.
The Hawkeyes converted a field goal early in the third to narrow the deficit to 6. That margin would remain the same for most of the quarter until the maize and blue defenders pounced on a Tate fumble at the Iowa 23 in the waning moments of the quarter. The offense made it into the endzone expeditiously, thanks in large part to two straight off-sides penalties against the Hawkeyes. Hart carried the ball the rest of the way in to make the score 23-10. Another Iowa fumble on the next possession put the Wolverines in position to put the nail in the coffin.
After Edwards moved the ball in a little closer, Hart sprinted over left guard 17 yards and stretched at the very end in an attempt to get the ball into the endzone, but an Iowa defender jarred the ball from his arms and recovered the it for a touchback. That left the door open for the visitors, but it wouldn’t stay that way very long.
On the subsequent Iowa possession, Tate dropped back on third down and was pressured on a corner blitz by Marlin Jackson. The resulting throw was off target and was intercepted by Grant Mason. The Stanford transfer returned the ball all of the way to the 2 yard-line before teammate Roy Manning hurled him into the endzone for the score and the 30-10 lead.
The Hawkeyes added another touchdown late to make the final score 30-17, but the story of the day was still the Michigan defense. “I said they were magnificent in the second half a week ago,” Carr said. “I think they were magnificent all day. They had a big play to start the game, but we helped them with a penalty. I thought after that we settled down. I thought we had great field position today because our kick coverage teams did an excellent job. Our defense controlled the line of scrimmage. Any time you hold a team to that few yards rushing you are really controlling things up front. We had two great interceptions, both of them were the result of very good pressure. I think (defensive coordinator) Jim Herrmann did a great job in terms of coming up with a scheme that gave us an opportunity to get some pressure. I think the guys really played hard.”
With the five forced turnovers on the day, the Michigan defense now has 19 on the season and continues to lead the country on that statistic. The turnovers lead to 27 points of Michigan’s 30 points versus Iowa 79 of its 117 points for the season, including 21 points scored by the defense on two interception returns and one fumble return.