Posts Tagged ‘James Vandenberg’
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
For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we are proud to welcome RossWB from the ever popular Iowa SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants. He will provide his perspective on how or why Iowa can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.
How can Iowa win this game? If Michigan contracts a serious case of food poisoning on Saturday morning, Iowa could win this game. If the Iowa bus gets lost and they wind up playing the game against a team of Ann Arbor middle schoolers, Iowa could win this game. If Kirk Ferentz is allowed to use a time machine, Iowa could win this game.
But as far as serious ways for Iowa to win this game…well, if you’ve seen the highlights – or even just read the box scores – from the last four weeks, then you probably know why it’s hard to have even a sliver of confidence in Iowa winning this game. They’ve lost four games in a row in Big Ten play, twice to decent opponents (Penn State and Northwestern) and twice to the Big Ten’s Indiana contingent. And the “decent” opponents absolutely massacred Iowa. The Indiana and Purdue games were close losses that, truth be told, were probably only close because of too many turnovers and penalties by those teams.
The Iowa offense hasn’t put up 20 points on their own since September, when they scored 24 of Iowa’s 31 points against Minnesota. (Iowa scored 21 and 24 points the last two weeks, but each game featured a defensive touchdown by Iowa.) The offense was bad to begin with, but it went from bad to farcical when it lost probably its two best players in back-to-back games (RB Mark Weisman against Michigan State, OT Brandon Scherff against Penn State). Now the offensive line can’t do much of anything, the receivers can’t get open, and the quarterback is a jittery mess still trying to adjust to life as a square peg in the round hole that is Greg Davis’ offense.
Only one of Iowa’s past four opponents has cracked 30 points (Penn State), but the other teams easily could have cracked 30 points if not for some untimely turnovers and red zone miscues. Each of Iowa’s last four opponents has amassed over 400 yards of offense and they’ve done it in a variety of ways; Penn State killed Iowa with balance, Northwestern ripped Iowa to bits on the ground, Indiana shredded them through the air, and Purdue did a little bit of everything. The defensive line can’t get pressure, the secondary struggles to cover, and two of the top three linebackers ended the previous game on the bench, for injuries or other reasons.
So how can Iowa win? They’ll probably need touchdowns from defense and special teams, for one. (And actual touchdowns, not just short fields – I have zero confidence in the Iowa offense being able to take advantage of a short field and score touchdowns themselves.) They’ll need Michigan’s offense to have an absolutely miserable day and turn the ball over several times. They’ll probably need the Michigan defense to forget how to tackle. And they’ll probably need to lock Greg Davis in a closet, give James Vandenberg a playbook from 2011, and hope for the best. Iowa has won three in a row over Michigan and they did pull an upset over Big Blue last year, but that was a better Iowa team, one that wasn’t bereft of talent, good ideas, and confidence. To win this year, Iowa probably needs a minor miracle.
It’s hard to imagine Michigan losing this one unless Denard doesn’t play and Devin Gardner gets hurt too. Then it’s anyone’s guess. Iowa has surrendered over 400 yards to each of its past four opponents, one of which being a Purdue squad that was previously winless in conference play. Regardless of whether Denard or Devin is piloting the offense, Michigan should be able to move the ball.
But Iowa’s main problems are on the offensive side of the ball where the Hawkeyes are averaging just 19 points per game over the last five. The run game ranks second to last in the Big Ten and took a big hit when Mark Weisman went down two weeks ago. James Vandenberg is a decent quarterback, and the best way for Iowa to try to attack Michigan would be with the passing game. We all saw how Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian was able to shred the Michigan secondary the few series he was in last week. The main difference was that NW had a running game that Michigan was having trouble stopping as well. Despite the No.1 overall pass defense, Michigan’s secondary has been vulnerable to the deep ball all season; opposing quarterbacks just haven’t been accurate with it. If Iowa can hit a couple of them they could back Michigan’s defense off.
But make no mistake about it. If Michigan scores more than 20 points, it will win. And there’s absolutely no reason to think the Wolverines will be held below 20. I have a hard time believing Denard will play much if at all this weekend, so the offense will be the same as it has been the past two weeks: pro-style, power running with a better passing game. Devin Gardner’s command of the offense will continue to improve and he’ll be able to exploit the Hawkeye defense just as the past four opponents have.
The main thing Michigan has to worry about in this one is not looking ahead to undefeated Ohio State next week. That’s where the last three years come into play. Iowa’s three-game winning streak over Michigan allows Brady Hoke to keep the team focused on ending the streak, just like it did against OSU last year and Michigan State a few weeks ago. On Senior Day, you can bet the 18 seniors won’t want their careers to expire having never beaten the Hawkeyes. In addition to that, Michigan is still in the hunt for the Legends division title, so expect another big day by Garnder leading Michigan to a win setting up a huge showdown in Columbus next Saturday.
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
If you look up the color pink in Wikipedia, it is described as “commonly used for Valentine’s Day and Easter, pink is sometimes referred to as “the color of love.” This week, when Michigan travels to Iowa City, the Wolverines will dress in the Hawkeyes’ pink visitors locker room.
Senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen had the best quote of the week so far, saying “I love the pink locker room. I’ve never had an issue with the pink locker room. I think it gives it nice decor, the feng shui really feels good before the game. It warms you up, it’s very welcoming.
“I think more teams should go with the pink,” he continued. “I have no problem with it. I think it’s a great touch. It’s better than the off-white jail-cell look. So, I say paint ’em up.”
Whether Van Bergen was joking, being serious, or just playing reverse psychology, the fact remains that a win in Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2005 will have Michigan fans across the country feeling the love for Coach Brady Hoke.
Michigan’s last win in Iowa City was a 23-20 overtime thriller in 2005, ending the Hawkeyes’ 22-game home winning streak. The last time Michigan visited Iowa, it fell two points short of an upset of the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes when Denard Robinson’s comeback attempt was picked off.
This time, Michigan is the ranked team entering the matchup while Iowa limps in with its tail between its legs after losing to Minnesota, which still ranks eighth-to-last in the nation in points per game.
Prior to last week, I was cautious about the Hawkeyes, who really haven’t beaten a good team all season, but played Penn State tough in Happy Valley. After last Saturday, I’m convinced that the Hawkeyes just aren’t very good. But does that mean Michigan should breeze to victory? Let’s look at the position-by-position matchups:
James Vandenberg is the Big Ten’s second-best passer, trailing just Russell Wilson of Wisconsin. He completes 62.2 percent of his passes for 239.8 yards per game and 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions. In other words, he’s efficient like Iowa quarterbacks typically are.
Against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Vandenberg threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns. Against Penn State, however, he completed just 50 percent of his passes for 169 yards and two interceptions. So he is vulnerable. He’s in his first year as a starter, taking over for the departed Ricky Stanzi.
Everyone knows who Denard Robinson is by now and he can look back to that 2009 loss as his coming out party. He played well in last year’s loss as well, completing 13-of-18 passes for 96 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and rushing 18 times for 105 yards.
So far this season, he’s in the middle of the pack among Big Ten signal-callers, but leads the nation in quarterback rushing yards per game, and ranks fifth in the conference in rushing. He has been held under 100 yards rushing in three of the past four games, however, last week can be attributed largely to the emergence of Fitz Toussaint.
Iowa features one of the nation’s best in Marcus Coker. Just a sophomore, Coker is the nation’s ninth-ranked rusher (and Big Ten’s best), averaging 121 yards per game. He has racked up 10 touchdowns, including two in each of the last three games. Last week, he lit up Minnesota for 252 yards on 32 carries (7.9 yards per).
For the Hawkeyes, Coker is pretty much a one-man show. Freshman De’Andre Johnson is the second leading rusher with just 79 yards on 18 carries, while Vandenberg has the second most carries on the team with 52. Nobody else has more than nine.
For Michigan, the moment fans have been waiting for all season occurred last week: a running back emerged. Toussaint carried 20 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns, none more impressive than the 59-yard romp in which he took a pitch from Devin Gardner, rushed left, then cut back across the field to the right, splitting a pair of defensive backs, and sped to the end zone. If he hadn’t already, he’s now the leader in the clubhouse as far as running backs are concerned in Ann Arbor.
Vincent Smith averages 6.5 yards per carry and is a solid change-of-pace back, but not an every down back like Toussaint, while Michael Shaw adds the speed to get to the edge when needed. It’s becoming a nice three-way punch for the Wolverines.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
Just like at the running back position, Iowa has one of the league’s best at receiver. Marvin McNutt is a senior who has been around the block and is having his best season yet. The tall, lanky McNutt has 48 receptions for 858 yards, good for second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally. His nine touchdowns as tops in the conference. His best game of the season was a six-catch, 184-yard, three touchdown performance against Indiana two weeks ago in which he set the school’s career receiving touchdown record.
Unfortunately for Michigan, he’s not the only receiver the Hawkeyes have. Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are both dangerous, with seven touchdowns between them. Davis caught 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh and also eclipsed 100 yards against Northwestern. He missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, but should return tomorrow. Martin-Manley is the slot guy who had to move outside in Davis’ absence and caught five passes for 35 yards.
Michigan has a handful of talented receivers, but the passing game has yet to take off, partly due to the running game and partly due to Robinson’s struggles through the air, as evidenced by his 12 interceptions. Junior Hemingway is the most dangerous at getting behind the secondary, having two 100-plus-yard receiving games, but in the last two games has caught just five passes for 59 yards.
Perhaps the most featured receiver in the offense as the season progresses is diminutive sophomore Jeremy Gallon. In five of Michigan’s eight games so far, he has a reception of at least 24 yards, including each of the last three. In the last four games, he has 15 receptions for an average of 60 yards per game.
Even so, Iowa has the best overall receiver and a better passer to throw to them.
Iowa traditionally has a good offensive line, but it has been good but not great this season. It is a unit filled with upperclassmen and led by left tackle Riley Reiff, a likely first round selection in next year’s NFL Draft. Despite one of the nation’s top individual running backs, Iowa’s line has paved the way for the nation’s 60th-best rush offense and allows just over two sacks per game, good for 73rd nationally.
Michigan’s line has paved the way for the nation’s ninth-best rush offense, averaging 253.3 yards per game, and is 33rd nationally in sacks allowed with 10 through the first eight games. Seven of those were against Michigan State. David Molk is the unquestioned leader at center and left tackle Taylor Lewan has been solid all season.
Iowa averages about a sack and a half per game and gives up 163 yards rushing per game. To be fair, the Hawkeyes are still stinging from the loss of three starters to the NFL, including first-rounder Adrian Clayborn and fourth-rounder Christian Ballard. The leader of the unit is senior defensive end Broderick Binns who has three sacks, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble. Tackle Mike Daniels is experienced and leads the team with four sacks.
Michigan’s line has done well all season with the exception of the lone loss, to Michigan State. Mike Martin is always a beast in the middle, but he recorded his first two sacks of the season last week against Purdue, including one in the end zone for a safety. End Craig Roh has three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss, while Ryan Van Bergen has had a quiet, but efficient season so far.
Sophomore James Morris leads the Hawkeyes (and the Big Ten) with 11 tackles per game, while fellow sophomore Christian Kirksey ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 9.5 per game. They’re an active unit, but have struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks, which should result in a big game for Robinson.
Last week, Michigan replaced Brandin Hawthorne with true freshman Desmond Morgan at weak-side linebacker. The results were mixed, but Morgan is a heady player who goes full-speed. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens has been up and down and redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, while still making some mistakes, seems to improve each game. He had a couple of great plays last week, including a one-handed take-down of the Purdue running back in the backfield.
Iowa’s secondary is probably its most experienced unit, led by strong safety Jordan Bernstein. The senior is third on the team in tackles with 45 and has a sack. Cornerback Shaun Prater has an interception returned for a touchdown while fellow corner, Micah Hyde, has three picks and six pass break-ups on the season (which leads the Big Ten). While experienced, the unit still ranks 81st nationally in pass defense, giving up 238.6 yards per game through the air – 44 yards more than Michigan allows.
Michigan has made some changes to its starting secondary, moving Troy Woolfolk to safety to fill Jordan Kovacs’ spot while he’s out with an injury. The rise of freshman corner Blake Countess has allowed Woolfolk to make the move. Countess saw limited action early in the season, but has four pass break-ups and a forced fumble and looks to be Michigan’s best corner already. Safety Thomas Gordon has done a good job and is typically a solid tackler and doesn’t get beat deep. Michigan’s pass defense ranks 26th nationally, giving up just 196.3 yards per game.
Iowa has a pretty good kicker in Mike Meyer (no, not that one), but he did miss 24- and 43-yarders last week. He’s still 12-of-16, with a long of 50. Punter Eric Guthrie averages 42 yards per punt, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.
Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons has been surprisingly solid this season, connecting on 6-of-8 field goals, including two last week. His long is just 38 yards, so don’t count on anything long. Punter Will Hagerup is averaging just 34.8 yards per punt, but has done a good job of placing inside the 20.
Kirk Ferentz isn’t flashy. He’s in the same mold as Lloyd Carr and generally fields tough teams that are susceptible to playing down to opponents (re: last week). However, they’re always tough in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium.
Brady Hoke has won over nearly everybody in Ann Arbor since replacing Rich Rodriguez. His even-keeled demeanor and trust of his coordinators are a refreshing change on the sidelines and if he can beat Iowa on the road, he’ll already have fans believing Michigan is back.
While Van Bergen insists he doesn’t mind the pink locker rooms, the intimidating Kinnick Stadium is another factor in and of itself. Iowa is always stingy at home. The good news for Michigan is that Denard already played there in his freshman season, so he shouldn’t be intimidated.
The natural grass playing surface was replaced with Field Turf in 2009, when Michigan last played there, so the Wolverines won’t have to worry about having its speed advantage negated. The weather forecast looks good: mid-to-high 50s and sunny, so it shouldn’t be a factor.
Iowa runs a pretty straight-forward pro-style offense. Coker is a load and McNutt will be a handful, but if there’s anything Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison knows how to do, it’s gameplan. It’s easy to see how his defense could struggle a bit against spread running offenses such as Northwestern’s in the first half, but Iowa’s isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
They use Coker to set up a lot of play-action and if you give Vandenberg time to throw he can be deadly. Minnesota succeeded last week when blitzing off the edge, so expect Mattison to dial up some well-timed blitzes. Coker runs almost exclusively up the middle.
When Michigan has the ball, it should be able to move fairly well. Minnesota’s anemic offense scored 22, Iowa State’s 79th-ranked scoring offense scored 44, and Indiana’s 89th-ranked scoring offense scored 24 against the Hawkeyes. Iowa gives up over 400 yards per game and the best offense it has faced all season is Northwestern.
Minnesota got 101 yards on 5.1 yards per carry out of Duane Bennett last week, along with 61 yards from quarterback Marqueis Gray. Penn State’s Silas Redd racked up 142 yards on 5.1 yards per carry four weeks ago. Look for a lot of Toussaint early, but also a lot of designed runs for Denard. After the running game gets going, Michigan should open it up a little bit against Iowa’s 81st-ranked pass defense.
Expect Offensive Coordinator Al Borges to do just enough to win without needing to divulge much of the remaining play book that could be used against Nebraska and Ohio State at seasons’ end. It will be a close game early, but Michigan will be too much for the Hawkeyes to keep up with. Michigan should have this one under control in the fourth quarter.
Michigan 38 – Iowa 27
Good to Know:
| With 2 passing touchdowns, Denard Robinson will tie Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th place on Michigan’s career list. With 4, he will tie Tom Brady (1996-99) for 7th