Posts Tagged ‘Greg Davis’
The final home game of the season is upon us and Michigan will be looking to send its seniors off in style with a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. At this point, the Hawkweys hold the longest winning streak of any opponent over Michigan – three games – and Brady Hoke would love to end that just as he did to the streaks Ohio State and Michigan State had accumulated.
For the third straight week, uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position as Denard Robinson has yet to be publicly cleared to play. Devin Gardner has filled in nicely the past two weeks and will likely be tasked to do the same tomorrow. Michigan remains in contention for the Big Ten Legends division title and a spot in the championship game, but must win out.
Michigan Stadium - Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa should provide a nice tune-up for the epic showdown that looms in Columbus a week from tomorrow. The Hawkeyes come in needing a win to stay alive for bowl contention. At 4-6, Iowa must win its last two to get a bowl bid. Iowa’s four wins were over Northern Illinois (18-17), Northern Iowa (27-16), Minnesota (31-13), and Michigan State (19-16 OT). The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State (9-6), Central Michigan (32-31), Penn State (38-14), Northwestern (28-17), Indiana (24-21), and Purdue (27-24). The latter four of those losses have come consecutively in the last four weeks following the overtime victory over MSU. Can Iowa somehow rekindle the magic it found in East Lansing? Or will Michigan ensure the ‘Hawks will be home for the holidays? Let’s take a look at the matchups.
When Iowa has the ball
As I explained in Monday’s First Look, Iowa’s offense has been downright anemic this season under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The man who coordinated Texas’ offense for 13 seasons hasn’t been able to get things going, but he also doesn’t have Vince Young at his disposal.
James Vandenberg is a competent quarterback, but doesn’t have much to throw to due to the departure of Marvin McNutt. Vandenberg has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. He hasn’t thrown for 250 yards in a game all season and hasn’t thrown multiple touchdowns in a single game either. Penn State held him to just 47.2 percent completions for 189 yards, a touchdown, and two picks and his numbers against Iowa State, Michigan State, and Purdue were similar.
As mentioned above, he lacks top-notch receivers like he had with McNutt. The leaders are Kennan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley who have 46 catches for 560 yards and 47 catches for 545 yards, respectively. But only Martin-Manley has multiple touchdown grabs (two). Mammoth tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz 31 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown. The main issue has been big plays. The entire offense has just 14 plays of 25 yards or more this season. McNutt had 15 by himself a year ago.
In the backfield, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has struck again. The leading rusher, Mark Weisman, had four straight 100-yard games, including a 217-yard performance against Central Michigan and 116 yards against Michigan State. But he left the Northwestern game with an ankle injury and has missed the last two games. He’s likely out this week as well. In his stead, sophomore Damon Bullock has been up and down. He rushed for 107 yards against Northwestern and 150 in the season opener, but has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the last two weeks. Purdue, who Michigan shredded for 304 yards rushing, held him to just 43 yards on 23 carries.
Davis’ offense is of the pro-style variety and calls for a zone running scheme and an underneath passing game. The offensive line has been through its share of injuries this season and has been a major factor in the lack of a run game. The lack of a true deep threat like McNutt has caused the underneath routes to be less effective. Expect Greg Mattison to unleash a blitz scheme designed to pressure Vandenberg into making quick decisions.
When Michigan has the ball
Like the offense, Iowa’s defense is guided by a new coordinator this season. Phil Parker has a solid group of linebackers but not much else. Despite the new coordinator it’s essentially the same defensive style as what Norm Parker ran, as Phil Parker was the team’s defensive backs coach for the previous 13 seasons.
While the Hawkeyes rank 29th nationally in points allowed, the total defense is a mediocre 51st. Each of the last four opponents have racked up over 400 yards of offense, and Penn State surpassed 500.
Junior linebacker Anthony Hitchens is the Big Ten’s leading tackler by a wide margin with 114, while James Morris ranks third and Christian Kirksey ranks 12th. Each of the three has more tackles than Michigan’s leading tackler, Desmond Morgan and they’re all solid linebackers.
The rest of the defense, not so much. Tackle Joe Gaglione has five sacks and nine tackles for loss, but no one else on the team has more than two sacks. The line has trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, ranking 111th nationally with just 11 sacks in 10 games.
The secondary has a pair of experienced corners in Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery. Hyde is the team’s fourth leading tackler with 67, has a pair of fumble recoveries, and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 12 pass breakups. The three-year starter doesn’t get beat often. Lowery, you might remember for knocking down Michigan’s final pass in the end zone last year, thwarting the comeback attempt.
The 4-3 defense employed by Parker isn’t overly aggressive and prefers to sit back and let the play come to it. The last four opponents have scored just an average of just over 29 points per game, and there’s no reason to think Michigan won’t do otherwise.
Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
The other third
Kicker Mike Meyer has converted 16-of-19 field goals on the season with a long of 50. He made 14-of-20 last season and 14-of-17 in 2010 for a career average of 78.6. Punter Connor Kornbrath has an average of 37.4, which ranks 10th in the conference. Former Michigan quarterback commit John Wienke has also punted a dozen times with similar results.
The return game is below average, although Jordan Cotton leads the Big Ten with a 27.9-yard kick return average with one touchdown. Hyde handles punt return duties with an average of 5.4 yards per return. The Hawkeyes do defend returns pretty well, ranking 31st and 27th nationally in kick and punt return coverage, respectively.
The biggest danger for Michigan in this one is overlooking the Hawkeyes for next week’s battle in Columbus. But a couple of factors exist that won’t allow that to happen. First of all, it’s Senior Day, so Denard, Jordan Kovacs, et al. will want to go off in style. Secondly, Michigan has the nation’s second longest home winning streak and hasn’t lost in the Big House since Hoke took over. Finally, Iowa has won the last three meetings and you can bet Hoke won’t let the team overlook that fact. Michigan will come to battle Iowa as if the Hawkeyes were the Buckeyes.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Denard didn’t play much. Michigan can win this one without him and needs him fully healthy for Ohio State, a possible Big Ten championship game, and the bowl game. There’s no use in letting him re-aggravate the elbow in this one. That being said, it is his final game in Michigan Stadium, so he may start and play a series or see a few plays here and there, but don’t expect him to play the full game.
With Gardner at quarterback, Michigan’s offense will look like it has the past two weeks. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will split time in the backfield, although Vincent Smith will likely get some time as well since he’s a senior. Gardner will have another big day throwing and Michigan will cruise to a win, setting up the big one next Saturday.
Michigan 35 – Iowa 17
Continuing our 2012 preseason opponent preview series, the fifth easiest (or eighth toughest) game of the upcoming season is the second to last opponent of the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes. In the past few weeks, we have previewed, in order of easiest to not-so-easiest, UMass, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern.
It’s not often that a head coach replaces both coordinators in one offseason, but when you’re the elder statesman of the Big Ten and you’ve had two straight lackluster seasons, sometimes change is due. Kirk Ferentz, now in his 14th season at Iowa, let go of longtime offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe and defensive coordinator Norm Parker. He replaced Parker with defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation), but he went outside the program for new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Davis was the man who guided Texas to a national championship in 2006 and called plays for Vince Young and Colt McCoy. From 2003 to 2009, his offenses finished no worse than 14th nationally in scoring and scored at least 35.2 points per game each season. How much of that was Davis and how much of that was Young and McCoy is debatable. Without the two, his offense scored just 23.8 points per game and the Longhorns limped to a 5-7 record in 2010.
Davis inherits an offense that was middle of the pack in the Big Ten last season, but he does have a talented signal caller to work with. Senior James Vandenberg returns for his second year as a starter after throwing for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. His yards per game average was third in the conference behind Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins and his touchdowns were second only to Russell Wilson’s 33.
He’ll have to find a new top receiver to throw to as Marvin McNutt is off to the NFL. Senior Keenan Davis caught 50 passes last season and is the logical choice, but he struggled in spring ball, leaving the door open for others. Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley impressed last season, catching 30 passes and three touchdowns as a freshman, and could step into a leading role. Another guy to watch for is tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. He’s 6’7” and 265 pounds with good hands and is tough to bring down. He caught just 16 passes last season, but most came in the last few games in which he caught touchdown passes in three of the final four games.
It seems to be a yearly refrain, but the position that has been the most ravaged for the Hawkeyes is running back. Last season’s leading rusher, and the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher, Marcus Coker, transferred to Stony Brook amid legal troubles. To make matters worse, his likely replacement, Jordan Canzeri, tore his ACL in March and Mika’il McCall transferred as well. Sophomore De’Andre Johnson is next in line, but he struggled holding onto the ball in the spring. Fellow sophomore Damon Bullock showed good speed in the spring and will factor in, while a pair of freshman, Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill, will get a chance to show what they can do in the fall.
The offensive line is a typical Iowa line despite having to replace three starters. Iowa churns out big uglies as well as any school in the Big Ten and has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Redshirt freshman Austin Blythe looked good in the spring and will try to work his way into the lineup in fall camp. The Hawkeyes have eight or nine battling it out for the starting five, which won’t be decided until the start of the season.
While the offense will likely take some time to adjust to the new schemes, defense will be the Hawks’ calling card. Yes, a new defensive coordinator is in place, but he came from within, so don’t expect a drop off in production.
Let’s start with the question mark: the defensive line. It’s a young group aside from end Joe Gaglione, who had a strong spring, and tackle Steve Bigach. Parker will need some young guys such as Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn, and Carl Davis to step up, though Davis missed spring practice with a knee injury. Defensive end Dominic Alvis is likely to earn a starting spot if he can return healthy from a torn ACL.
|Sept. 1||Northern Illinois|
|Sept. 8||Iowa State|
|Sept. 15||Northern Iowa|
|Sept. 22||Central Michigan|
|Oct. 13||@ Michigan State|
|Oct. 20||Penn State|
|Oct. 27||@ Northwestern|
|Nov. 3||@ Indiana|
|Nov. 17||@ Michigan|
The back seven will be solid. James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens all return at the linebacker spots, though if any of them go down, there’s not much depth. Micah Hyde is a solid playmaker at corner, but the Hawkeyes are still looking for his counterpart. B.J. Lowery looks to be that guy, but Greg Castillo, who has started a few games, is right there as well. At safety, Nico Law and Tanner Miller are the starters. Law is a big hitter who impressed in the spring game. Parker promises to blitz more and play more press coverage than Iowa has in recent year, so look for the back seven to carry the Hawkeyes defense, but the performance of the line will tell the tale of the season.
Kicker Mike Meyer is back after hitting 14 of 20 last season, while Iowa needs to find a new punter. Former quarterback John Wienke looks to be the guy, however, Jonny Mullings may end up the starter when all is said and done. Hyde retakes the punt return duties after averaging 8.2 yards per return last season and Davis will again handle kick return duties.
With so many questions at the sills positions offensively, Iowa will need its defense to be dominant. Vandenberg will be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but how quickly he grasps the new offense, and how well the running backs step up, will be the stories to watch early in the season. Fortunately, the non-conference schedule looks like four wins and the Hawks skip Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Ferentz doesn’t win at least eight or nine games it will be another disappointing season in Iowa City.
What it means for Michigan
Lost amid the focus of Michigan’s losing streak to Michigan State and the exuberance of ending the losing streak to Ohio State is a three-game losing streak to Iowa. The only reason it isn’t four is because the two didn’t play in 2008. This year, the game falls very late in the season, right after Minnesota and Northwestern and right before the big showdown in Columbus. Will Michigan be looking ahead? Don’t count on it. This should be the year the losing streak ends