photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Weisman’

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Running backs (part one)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-RB

Last week, we introduced Maize and Go Blue’s series that will rank the best Big Ten football players at each position in 2014. Each week until Michigan’s season opener in late August, one position will be previewed. The analysis provided will be thorough and in-depth, not just a brief summary, so each position preview will be split into two parts. I kicked off the series last week by ranking the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. If you missed it, you can catch up with Part One and Two here. This week, I take a look at the quarterbacks’ buddies in the backfield: the running backs.

10. Mark Weisman, Iowa | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 240 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 975 4.3 8 75.0 41 0
2012 815 5.1 8 81.5 90 1
2011 0 0 0 NA 0 0
Career Totals 1,790 4.6 16 77.8 131 1
(Iowa Athletic Communications)

(Iowa Athletic Communications)

The Big Ten will have a deep stable of running backs this upcoming season, making the cuts for this list particularly difficult. One running back that was a candidate for this spot was Rutgers’ Paul James. In 10 games last year, James earned 156 carries for 881 yards, an above average 5.65 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns. James actually was well on his way to a much better season, rushing for 573 yards and six touchdowns in his first four games, before missing several weeks with a leg injury. James is a back who can raise eyebrows in his Big Ten debut, but health concerns and a lackluster Rutgers offensive line kept him off the list.

This created a duel for the final spot between Iowa’s Mark Weisman and Penn State’s Zach Zwinak. Weisman and Zwinak had very similar numbers last season. Weisman posted 226 carries for 974 yards—4.31 yards per carry—and eight touchdowns, while Zwinak had 210 carries for 989 yards—4.71 yards per carry—and eight touchdowns. Not only were their statistics similar, their running styles are similar, too. Both are built like fullbacks, listed at 6’0” or 6’1” and 240 pounds. Both compensate for their lack of agility and lateral quickness with their strength and ability to push the pile forward consistently. Neither has the breakaway speed to be a touchdown threat on any given play, but they are scoring machines once they are in the red zone. All 20 of their combined touchdown runs last year were no longer than 12 yards. They are bulldozers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Despite having fewer rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns than Zwinak in 2013, Weisman has the edge here in 2014. Weisman always starts the season on a strong note. In 2012, he totaled 98 carries for 623 yards, 6.36 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns in his first four games of extensive action. The next year, in the first five contests of the season, he recorded 119 carries for 615 yards, 5.17 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. Early in the season, Weisman is at full strength and uses his power to punish defenses.

However, Weisman was unable to maintain his power throughout the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. After the first four to five games of each season, his carries began to have diminishing returns. In 2012, Weisman produced only 3.12 yards per carry in Iowa’s final six games, two of which he missed due to an ankle injury. In 2013, Weisman managed only 3.36 yards per carry in the Hawkeyes’ final eight contests. His body could not handle the sustained beatings he took week in and week out, and wore out by the end of the year. For Weisman to remain effective for an entire season, he must share the load.

Weisman finally will have that opportunity. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Iowa has a talented and, most importantly, healthy corps of running backs. Fellow Iowa backs Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock will take much of the pressure off of Weisman. This may mean fewer carries for Weisman, but he will be as much of an effective bruiser at the end of the season as he generally is at the start. This will not drop Weisman below Zwinak on this list either because Zwinak also shares carries with two other running backs at Penn State. Additionally, Zwinak will be lined up behind an offensive line with only one returning starter, while Weisman will be lined up behind arguably the Big Ten’s best offensive lineman in Brandon Scherff. Then, once Iowa’s commitment to pounding the rock under head coach Kirk Ferentz is considered, all signs point to Weisman having his best season yet in Iowa City.

9. Corey Clement, Wisconsin | Sophomore – 5’11”, 210 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 547 8.2 7 68.4 9 0
Career Totals 547 8.2 7 68.4 9 0
(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

There are very few places in the nation where a second-string running back can produce a 1,000-rushing-yard season, but one of those places certainly is Wisconsin. Since 2009, only four times has a school had two running backs each gain 1,000 yards on the ground. To be clear, this is not two 1,000-yard rushers, but two 1,000-yard running backs. Quarterbacks are excluded. Of those four times, Wisconsin is the only school to achieve the feat twice, doing it in 2010 and 2013, while Alabama and Kent State both accomplished it in 2012. Further, in 2010, Wisconsin was only four yards away from having a third running back top 1,000 yards. Absurd. With the evolution of the read-option and advanced passing schemes, this type of production from the depths of the running back position nearly is extinct in this day and age. Currently, there are only two locations where it remains alive and well. One is Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The other is Madison, Wisconsin.

In the offseason, last year’s starting running back, James White, graduated, taking his 221 carries, 1,444 rushing yards, and 13 rushing touchdowns with him. Accordingly, Melvin Gordon, whom we will discuss a bit later on this list, was promoted from second string to the top of the depth chart. Given Wisconsin’s inclination to run the football and even feed the backup tailbacks, there are about 125 to 175 carries available for the Badgers’ second-string running back this fall. Enter: Corey Clement.

Last season, as a true freshman, Clement capitalized on the few touches he received as Wisconsin’s third-string running back by showcasing his speed and big-play ability. Despite toting the rock only 67 times in 11 games, he still gained 547 yards. In fact, Clement’s 8.16 yards per carry were the best in the Big Ten among players who averaged a minimum of four rush attempts per game played. Additionally, Clement crossed the goal line seven times for touchdowns. His touchdown rate of 10.45 percent was the second-best in the conference among those who averaged four carries per game played, behind only Nebraska’s Imani Cross. Do not forget that Clement did all of this with only 67 carries. Imagine what he can do with 100 more carries behind an offensive line that returns four starters.

Yet, despite this glowing report and the situation Clement will enter in 2014, he is only No. 9 in these rankings. Why? His 547 rushing yards and 8.16 yards per carry are a mirage to a certain extent. He received almost all of his carries when Wisconsin already had secured a victory. Of Clement’s 67 carries last season, 65 were in the second half and 64 were when Wisconsin led by no less than 15 points. At that point, the opposing defense had either little left to fight for or had substituted in the second-stringers. Clement has yet to prove he can be effective against a first-string defense in a competitive contest. If he cannot, Wisconsin will not feel pressured to continue to feed him the ball regularly. Instead, those carries will be allocated to Gordon. This is why Clement sits so low on this list, even though he likely will be part of the third Wisconsin running back duo in the past five seasons to have each member rush for 1,000 yards in the same year.

8. Josh Ferguson, Illinois | RS Junior – 5’10”, 195 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 779 5.5 7 64.9 535 4
2012 312 4.2 0 31.2 251 0
2011 52 3.7 0 17.3 14 0
Career Totals 1,143 5.0 7 45.7 800 4
(Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports)

(Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports)

If there is one running back that has been unfairly left off of multiple preseason All-Big Ten lists or Big Ten running back rankings, it is Illinois’ Josh Ferguson. He is one of the best all-around running backs in the conference, and, yet, no one seems to notice. The reasons for his exclusion are not difficult to decipher. Illinois had the third-worst rushing offense in the Big Ten last season, averaging only 139 yards per game and 4.06 yards per carry. Naturally, as the starting running back, much of the blame for these woes is shifted to Ferguson. His 779 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns are viewed as not being enough for Illinois to have a successful ground game. Fans and media alike want to see Ferguson up those rushing statistics before they consider him to be one of the better Big Ten running backs.

However, Ferguson’s rushing totals are down not because he was ineffective, but because he had so few opportunities to run the football. Last year, Illinois was one of only three Big Ten teams that attempted more passes than runs. Naturally, Ferguson did not have as many carries as the other starting tailbacks in the Big Ten. In fact, Ferguson’s average of 11.75 carries per game was the second-fewest among starting running backs in the conference. Yet, he performed very well when given the opportunity. Ferguson’s 5.52 yards per carry was more than solid and the eighth-best among Big Ten players with a minimum of 100 carries last year. Ferguson actually was the one bright spot in Illinois’ ground game in 2013. The reasons why Illinois struggled running the ball were its reliance on the pass and then-starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase earning the second-most carries on the team despite averaging only 2.40 yards per carry. Ferguson does not deserve the blame here.

Further, not only is Ferguson much better at running the football than a quick glance at his numbers would indicate, he is by far the best receiving tailback in the conference. Last season, in offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s first year at Illinois, Ferguson led all Big Ten running backs in receptions (50), receiving yards (535), and receiving touchdowns (four). No other Big Ten running back approached those totals. The second-most catches by a Big Ten running back was 39; the second-most receiving yards by a Big Ten running back was 382. Ferguson is a completely different breed of running back.

Ferguson’s ability to make plays with both his feet and his hands propelled him to 1,314 yards from scrimmage, 6.88 yards per carry or reception, and 11 total touchdowns last season. These are the statistics that one of the best running backs in the Big Ten produces. Expect him to do it again in Year 2 of Cubit’s passing spread offense. Not only will Ferguson continue to catch three to six passes out of the backfield every week, he will see more carries, too. No longer will Ferguson need to worry about his quarterback cannibalizing his rush attempts. With pocket passer Wes Lunt replacing the graduated Scheelhaase, Scheelhaase’s carries will be given to Ferguson, not Lunt. These additional carries will give Ferguson the chance to generate 1,500 yards from scrimmage next season. Ferguson would be one of the best playmakers in the Big Ten, even if he does it a bit differently than his running back-brethren.

7. David Cobb, Minnesota | Senior – 5’11”, 225 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,202 5.1 7 92.5 174 0
2012 8 8.0 0 8.0 3 0
2011 57 5.7 0 19.0 0 0
Career Totals 1,267 5.1 7 74.5 177 0
(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

Entering the 2013 season, David Cobb was an unknown commodity. In high school, Cobb was an unheralded recruit to say the least. According to 247’s Composite Rankings for the 2011 class, he was ranked outside the top 1,000 nationally and the No. 72 running back. With these (lack of) recruiting accolades, very little was expected of Cobb once he arrived on campus at Minnesota. And Cobb produced very little in his first two seasons, running the ball only 11 times for 65 yards and zero touchdowns. Cobb seemed to be a running back who would ride the pine most of his career except during garbage time.

However, when Minnesota’s starting running back  Donnell Kirkwood went down with an ankle injury in the season opener, it gave Cobb the opportunity to share meaningful snaps with second-string running back Rodrick Williams, Jr. Cobb capitalized on the opportunity and slowly began to assert himself as the best tailback on the roster. By the second half of the season, Cobb was Minnesota’s go-to back, earning no less than 17 carries in each of the Gophers’ final seven games. During that seven-game stretch, he had 169 carries for 828 yards, 4.90 yards per carry, and two touchdowns, and posted five games with 100 yards rushing. Cobb did not do it with speed, but with a physical running style that slammed away three to six yards at a time. By the later stages of games, defenses were worn out, as his yards per carry jumped from 4.40 in the first half to 5.69 in the second half. With this surge in the second half of the season, Cobb finished with 237 carries, 1,202 rushing yards, and seven touchdowns, and became Minnesota’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Amir Pinnix in 2006.

Cobb is no longer an unknown commodity. He now is one of the better tailbacks in the Big Ten and will have a splendid chance to duplicate last season’s performance. Minnesota has established an offensive identity under head coach Jerry Kill that it will pound the football, pound the football, and pound it some more. This will not change next year. In the offseason, quarterback Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers, where he then was dismissed from the program due to legal troubles, thrusting Mitch Leidner into the starting role. Leidner is a rudimentary passer, but a skilled runner for a quarterback. Working behind an offensive line that loses only one starter from last year, the Gophers will once again rely on Cobb and Leidner to carry the offense each week. Although there is the possibility that Cobb will have less room to work with because defenses will stack the box against Minnesota, Cobb’s running style still likely will allow him to churn out four to five yards each play en route to another 1,000-yard season.

6. Venric Mark, Northwestern | 5th-Yr Senior – 5’8”, 175 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 97 3.1 0 32.3 48 0
2012 1,366 6.0 12 105.1 104 1
2011 104 6.9 1 8.0 4 0
2010 63 7.9 0 4.8 43 0
Career Totals 1,630 5.8 13 38.8 199 1
(Dave Stephenson, Icon SMI)

(Dave Stephenson, Icon SMI)

There is no Big Ten running back more difficult to rank on this list than Venric Mark. There are rational arguments for him to be the second-best running back in the conference. There are also rational arguments for him not to even be in the top 10. Let me explain. In 2012, Mark put together a wonderful season. In 13 games played, he accumulated 226 carries for 1,366 yards, 6.04 yards per carry, and 12 rushing touchdowns. His 1,366 rushing yards were the third-most in the Big Ten that season. He also added 104 yards through the air and a receiving touchdown. Mark was a scatback that thrived in the read-option offense with Kain Colter and used his elusive speed to gain yards in a flash. Mark has proven that he has the ability to be an elite running back not only in the Big Ten, but also the nation.

However, it is unknown if we will ever see the 2012 version of Mark again. He was plagued with injuries all of last season that rendered him ineffective. A hamstring injury limited Mark in Northwestern’s season opener against California and forced him to miss the next three non-conference games. Mark then returned for the conference opener against Ohio State. But, one week later, he suffered a broken ankle against Wisconsin which sidelined him for the remainder of the 2013 season. Mark finished with only 97 rushing yards and lots of questions about his health for 2014. Because Mark sat out Northwestern’s spring practice to continue rehabbing his ankle, very few of those questions have been answered.

So where to rank Mark for 2014? Will he return from his injuries with a vengeance and take the Big Ten by storm like he did in 2012? Or will he still be hampered by the lower-body injuries he suffered in 2013? The odds are in Mark’s favor that he will be ready to go for Northwestern’s opener in Week 1. Yet, even if so, Mark will be splitting carries with Treyvon Green, who filled in for Mark last year with 736 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Green will not be relegated to the bench just because Mark is back. Plus, there will be less read-option for Mark with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Mark will not have the same space to operate without the speedy Colter by his side and may see his production suffer consequently. All scenarios are realistic, so I split the difference and listed Mark at No. 6. Although it is hard to discount a player who was on the All-Big Ten second team in 2012, no player recovering from a serious ankle injury can be considered one of the top five tailbacks in this year’s Big Ten.

Part Two of Maize and Go Blue’s preview of the best Big Ten running backs in 2014 will be posted tomorrow. We will unveil the five top running backs in the conference. Which running back do you think will be No. 1? Do you agree or disagree with the ranks of the five running backs listed in Part One? Do you think a Michigan running back will be in the top five? Do you think a Michigan running back should be in the top 10? Please let us know in the comments.

M&GB staff predictions: Iowa

Friday, November 22nd, 2013


Last week, all seven of us had pretty similar predictions, and if Brendan Gibbons hadn’t made the last second field goal to send the game into overtime, we all would have been over. But after the three overtimes played out and Michigan’s offense finally found the end zone not once but twice, we all ended up under the final score. This week, Michigan faces a very good defense in a place the Wolverines haven’t won since 2005 in what will likely be poor weather conditions. Can Michigan build on the momentum from last week’s thrilling win, or will Iowa hand Michigan its third loss in four games? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Al Borges did a good job of keeping the playbook pretty vanilla for 59 minutes and 50 seconds last week. Unfortunately, Ohio State now has on tape the rush field goal that the staff had been trying to keep under wraps. Then, in overtime, he was forced to open things up a bit in order to get the win.

This week, look for a game plan similar to what he used in regulation against Northwestern. The Buckeyes are just one week away, so no need to show them anything. Save the reverses and double reverses and triple reverses and halfback passes and flea-flickers and fumblerooskis and statue of Liberties for next week. Do just enough to eek out the win. But this time it won’t be enough because Iowa’s defense > Northwestern’s. And they have pink locker rooms.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Iowa
Justin 13 16
Chris 20 23
Josh 13 20
Sam 10 13
Derick 17 21
Katie 17 13
Drew 13 17
M&GB Average 15 18

Iowa 16 – Michigan 13

Chris: Iowa 23 – Michigan 20

Josh: See yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Iowa 20 – Michigan 13

Sam: With basketball season now in full force, I don’t find a ton of free time to write about what’s left in the football season. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Michigan takes to the road for a second straight Big Ten barn-burner of a game that once again looks to be low-scoring and, frankly, somewhat boring. The Wolverines have not scored a touchdown in five consecutive regulation quarters and boast an offensive line that is in complete shambles. Devin Gardner, for his part, continues to have a difficult time reading blitzes and running away from them, which has contributed to the nearly 20 sacks taken in the past three games.

In Iowa City, I don’t expect too much to change. The offense will struggle to move the ball forward with any consistency and the defense will be solid.

Playing against the Hawkeyes will be quite like looking in a mirror for the Wolverines. Iowa is pretty mediocre all around on offense and features a bruiser of a running back that shouldn’t be able to get more than 3.5 yards a carry on Michigan and a quarterback who has tossed nine interceptions. Their defense is very solid and has allowed 20 or more points against only Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Iowa’s four losses are against teams that are ranked going into this weekend and their wins are unimpressive across the board.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what gives this weekend, but I think home field advantage might be a good place to start. Three of Iowa’s losses have come at home, but Michigan has been putrid away from the Big House for the better part of Brady Hoke’s tenure.

This game should be close until the bitter end when an Iowa field goal decides it. I’ll take the Hawkeyes.

Iowa 13 – Michigan 10

Fitz Toussaint is back but Derrick Green's performance against Northwestern warrants the bigger workload this week (MGoBlue.com)

Derick: Michigan continued to struggle on the road last week when the offense scored just nine points in regulation. This weekend, the team goes up against a much stronger Iowa defense.

Derrick Green gave the Wolverines a bit of a rushing threat in Evanston, and he will need to do the same on Saturday.

But on the road against a stingy defense? Doesn’t sound good for Michigan on offense.

Iowa 21 – Michigan 17

Katie: I feel like, you know what scratch that, I know that Michigan’s record could so easily have been worse than our 7-3 standing right now. The Maize and Blue faithful have held their breath against Akron, UConn, for quite a while against Indiana, and last week’s Northwestern matchup. I don’t know how the Wolverines have pulled it off I really don’t, but with two games left in the regular season I’m not going to pretend like a mark in the win column means that we’re improving. The same problems have been there all season, and to do nothing about them and keep playing the same way is the definition of insanity. Devin Gardner showed some level-headedness in OT. Yes, he threw the ball well then. But the coaches should have pulled him for freshman Shane Morris weeks ago. And running plays up the gut with our offensive line? Really Borges? Where is the imagination? I know these kids are struggling but maybe just something different. And the defense going into prevent, rushing three guys on crucial plays so that they give the call time to develop? No thanks.

It’s late in the season, so I’m venting now. I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude and brush aside the things that are irksome, like say Hoke not wearing a headset. So when the question is how we’re going to do away against Iowa (6-4) I’ll just go ahead and say that we could eke it out. But will it be pretty? Probably not. Although Iowa has raked up some wins over meager opponents, their points against ranking is 12th in the nation. Ohio State put up the most points anyone has scored against the Hawkeyes this season with 34, and that was an away game. The other Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin scored 26 and 28, respectively in their games against them. So Michigan will have to put up points, which of late the team has struggled immensely trying to do. Truth be told though the running game is getting slightly better, and that could play a huge factor if we can gain yardage on the ground.

Of course no one knows how this will go, but I do know one thing. This time I won’t be holding my breath.

Michigan 17 – Iowa 13

Brady Hoke is looking for the first back-to-back road wins of his Michigan tenure (MGoBlue.com)

Drew: Remember my first “Inside the Numbers” column five weeks ago? The one explaining how Penn State needed an extraordinary amount of “last-minute luck” to topple Michigan in quadruple overtime? Well, Michigan was fortunate enough to benefit from it at least once this season, miraculously squeaking by a Northwestern squad that has now lost six straight.

Here are just a few things Michigan needed to transpire to beat the Wildcats: (1) NU dropping a wide-open touchdown pass in the first half; (2) NU dropping at least six interceptions even though no team in the nation had picked off more passes than NU beforehand; (3) NU allowing U-M to convert two fourth downs during the final drive of regulation; and (4) NU failing to recover Devin Funchess’ fumble in double overtime and seal its first conference win.

That should cover most of the “last-minute luck.” No? That list is missing something? Like what? Oh, the Michigan-fire-drill-substituting, Drew Dileo-power-sliding, Brendan Gibbons-still-backpedaling, 44-yard field goal to send the game into overtime? Yeah, that too.

It was a memorable and much-needed road win for the Wolverines, but U-M probably wishes it had saved that “last-minute luck” for tomorrow. Since 1994, all six Michigan-Iowa contests played in Kinnick Stadium have been decided by eight points or less.  Four of those six have been decided by three points or less. U-M has lived on the edge at the end of games all season.  Don’t expect that to change in Iowa City.

Although their styles differ, Michigan and Iowa are very similar football teams.  Both teams have been mediocre in the Big Ten season.  Both teams lost to Michigan State, beat Minnesota, and beat Northwestern in overtime. Both teams are undefeated against FBS squads with non-winning records, but have struggled to beat FBS squads with winning records. Both teams rely on their defense—each of which is ranked in the top 20 in total defense—while their offenses try to find their footing.

Everything about this contest screams a competitive, low-scoring affair.  In these situations, favorable results tend to favor the home team. It does not help Michigan’s case that it has been putrid on the road in recent years. In true road games under Brady Hoke, U-M is 6-7 and has not won two straight. This season alone, U-M is 2-2 on the road, performing shakily in its two wins against teams with a combined 4-15 record.

Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout, but U-M’s offense will determine which team will be victorious. Although U-M will put points on the board—setting a new NCAA record with its 362nd straight game without being shut out—it will struggle yet again. Plus, Iowa’s exceptional punt-return unit will be the one that finally exploits U-M’s sub-par coverage team, scoring a critical punt-return touchdown in the second half that becomes the game-deciding score.

Iowa 17 – Michigan 13
____________________________________________________________________________

Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Iowa game preview; Monday’s First Look: Iowa, yesterday’s Friend vs Foe with RossWB of the Iowa SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Derick detailed his trip to the Northwestern game and what he took away from it. Drew (@DrewCHallett) explained the all-time streak Michigan is likely to break tomorrow.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from BHGP.

Finally, former Wolverines Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne still need your help raising money for their urban garden project for their hometown of Pahokee, Fla.

Michigan-Iowa game preview

Friday, November 22nd, 2013


After two straight losses Michigan got back on track with a thrilling triple-overtime win over Northwestern. Now, with a showdown against unbeaten rival Ohio State looming next weekend, Michigan looks to build momentum in Iowa City, a place the Wolverines haven’t won since 2005.

Iowa gained bowl eligibility with its 38-14 win over Purdue two weeks ago and will come into this matchup fresh off a bye week. With games against Michigan and Nebraska remaining, the Hawkeyes have a chance to exceed the low expectations they entered the season with after a 4-8 finish a year ago. Flipping those numbers would be quite the accomplishment for a squad that was projected to scrape the bottom of the Big Ten once again.

Quick Facts
Kinnick Stadium – 12pm EST – Big Ten Network
Iowa Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (15th season)
Coaching Record: 112-95 (100-74 at Iowa)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Davis (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Parker (2nd season)
Last Season: 4-8 (2-4, 6th Legends)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Iowa 17 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 41-13-4
Record in Iowa City: Michigan leads 16-6-1
Record at Kinnick Stadium: Michigan leads 15-6-1
Current Michigan Streak: Won 1
Last Michigan Win: 2012

In reality, Iowa has been better than its record indicates. The four losses have come against teams with a combined record of 38-3, and in three of those four the Hawkeyes were tied or held the lead in the fourth quarter. According to RossWB from the Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants, it has been the Iowa offense that has gotten stagnant late in games allowing opponents to come back. In fact, the Hawkeyes have been outscored 78-44 in the fourth quarter alone this season.

The last time Michigan won in Kinnick was when Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, and Jake Long still donned the maize and blue. The Wolverines lost 24-16 in 2011 and 30-28 in 2009 (they didn’t play in 2007).

Kinnick Stadium does hold claim to one notable Michigan performance. As Drew described in Wednesday’s Inside the Numbers, the last time Michigan was shut out was on Oct. 20, 1984 at Iowa. Since then, the Wolverines have gone 361 consecutive games without being shut out. Why is that important? Because if Michigan scores tomorrow it will set the all-time record that it currently holds with BYU. The Cougars’ streak that Michigan is currently tied with ended exactly ten years ago today.

Michigan defense vs Iowa offense: When Iowa has the ball

The Hawkeyes are piloted by sophomore Jake Rudock who has completed a hair under 60 percent of his passes for 1,916 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He took over for James Vanderberg who played every snap a year ago, and while he hasn’t been outstanding by any means he has managed the offense well. The season opener against Northern Illinois was his best game of the season in terms of yards (256), but two interceptions put a damper on it. He also had a good game against Ohio State, throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns. But Wisconsin held him to just 12-of-24 for 109 yards and an interception three weeks ago.

Rudock has a solid but by no means dominant receiving corps to throw to, led by Kevonte Martin-Manley. The 6’0″ junior leads the team with 35 receptions for 304 yards and four touchdowns. By comparison, Jeremy Gallon has 65 for 1,062 and Devin Funchess has 42 for 684. Jehu Chesson has two-thirds the amount of yards Martin-Manley has. His best game of the season was a nine-catch, 79-yard performance against NIU. Since then, he has averaged just 25 yards per game.

Jake Rudock threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State (Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

Junior Damond Powell is second on the team with 12 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns. More than half of his yards came on three catches against Western Michigan and Minnesota. Sophomore Tevaun Smith is the other receiver that factors in. He has 19 receptions for 213 yards.

With Iowa you always have to talk about tight ends and this year is no different. The main guy is CJ Fiedorowicz, the 6’7″, 265-pound senior who leads the team with four touchdowns. He has caught at least one pass in every game and more than one pass in six of them. But he’s not the only one. Sophomore Jake Duzey has 15 catches for 207 yards and two scores. They certainly create mismatches for linebackers, and lately the Hawkeyes have been running some three-tight end looks.

In the backfield, Iowa has a pair of decent backs in juniors Mark Wesiman and Damon Bullock. Weisman ranks eighth in the Big Ten in rushing with 777 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Bullock has 455 yards on 4.2 yards per carry. Weisman’s numbers have tailed off over the last five games as Bullock has started to get more carries. In the first five games of the season, Weisman topped 100 yards four times. Since then, his best performance has been 56 yards on 13 carries against Northwestern.

The offensive line is a typical bruising Iowa group that returned three starters from a year ago. The line has allowed just nine sacks this season, fewer than one per game, which has no doubt aided in Rudock’s ability to run the offense.

Greg Davis’ offense isn’t one that relies on big plays. It’s going to run the ball, throw to the tight ends, and rely on screens, draws, and the like. It’s your typical Iowa offense that will likely have you screaming at somebody to cover Duzey or Fiedorowicz here and there, but won’t do anything too crazy, especially in the cold and windy weather they will surely face.

Michigan offense vs Iowa defense: When Michigan has the ball

The strength of the Iowa defense is its linebackers. Anthony Hitchens was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season and ranks fifth in the conference with 87 tackles, while Christian Kirksey and James Morris are tied for ninth. Three linebackers in the top nine is pretty darn good. The group had a combined 65 career starts heading into this season.

The line is young and coming on strong. Junior tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat started all 12 games last season, while Carl Davis served as a rotation player. End Drew Ott has 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks on the season, while Mike Hardy has started the last three games in place of Domonic Alvis who has been out with an injury.

Despite losing last season’s top corner, Micah Hyde, Phil Parker’s defense still ranks 12th nationally in passing yards allowed. The unit is led by BJ Lowery, a 5’11″ senior cornerback who ranks second in the Big Ten with 16 passes defended. Safety Tanner Miller is the team’s most experienced player in the secondary, having started 33 straight games.

James Morris has started 39 straight games for Iowa

Iowa’s defense ranks ninth nationally in total defense and 24th against the run. A smart and talented group of linebackers and a good secondary is not a good recipe for Michigan’s struggling offense. The Wolverines’ offensive line has given up 19 sacks in the last three games, and while Iowa has only gotten to the quarterback 17 times all season, the same could have been said about Nebraska’s defense heading into the game two weeks ago.

The other third: Special teams

Senior kicker Mike Meyer has made 14-of-18 field goals with a long of 49 yards. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season and has made 59-of-76 during his career. Sophomore punter Connor Kornbrath ranks ninth in the conference with a punt average of 40.1 yards. Perhaps the most dangerous part of the Hawkeyes is Martin-Manley’s ability to return punts. He leads the Big Ten with an average of 18.8 yards per return on 14 returns and has taken two back for touchdown.

Prediction

The forecast on Saturday calls for a high of 23 degrees with 18 miles per hour wind and a real feel of 10 degrees. Those conditions won’t be conducive to passing, so it will be up to Michigan’s running game to move the ball. Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith looked good last week in the absence of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Brady Hoke says Toussaint will be back this week, but it remains to be seen whether the freshmen will get as many carries.

The bad news is Iowa has very good linebackers and one of the nation’s best defenses. We saw how that went against Michigan State, and while this won’t be a replay of that, Michigan isn’t likely to be able to move the ball with much consistency.

Expect a low scoring, classic Big Ten game with neither offense able to get much going. Whichever offense makes the most mistakes will lose. Michigan was fortunate last week that Northwestern dropped several interceptions and if Iowa is able to capitalize on those mistakes it will seal Michigan’s fate.

Michigan struggles on the road and the conditions aren’t suited to the Wolverines’ play right now. Hopefully they’ll be able to keep the momentum going for next week, but I don’t like their chances.

Iowa 16 – Michigan 13

First Look: Iowa

Monday, November 18th, 2013


Michigan got back in the win column with a triple-overtime thriller over Northwestern on Saturday and now has to hit the road for a second straight week, this time to Iowa. Like this past Saturday’s game, neither team has a chance at a conference or division title at this point and both are playing simply to improve their final standing and bowl placement.

Iowa comes in at 6-4 overall and is tied with Michigan at 3-3 in the Legends Division. Like Michigan, the Hawkeyes enter this week’s matchup having lost three of their last five. But Kirk Ferentz’s squad has been better than most forecasted entering the season. The three losses in the last five weeks have been expected – to Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin – and the other loss was the season opener to Northern Illinois, which is currently undefeated and ranked 16th nationally.

Other than the 28-9 loss to Wisconsin, Iowa has played each opponent tough. Iowa led NIU 27-20, but the Huskies scored 10 points in the final five minutes and won with a 38-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. Against Michigan State, the Hawkeyes held a 14-10 halftime lead, and trailed just 20-14 at the start of the fourth before falling 26-14. Against Ohio State, Iowa led 17-10 at halftime and the game was tied at 24 heading into the fourth.

If there has been a theme it is fourth quarter letdowns. For the season, Iowa has been outscored by opponents 78-44 in the fourth quarter alone and the third quarter is a 55-55 tie. The Hawkeyes have outscored their opponents 160-54 in the first half.

Iowa Statistics & Michigan Comparison
IowaMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 26.6 | 34.3 79 | 39 18.7 | 25.2 12 | T-51
Rushing Yards 1,9391,357 1,300 | 1,112
Rush Avg. Per Game 193.9 | 135.7 42 | 95 130.0 | 101.2 24 | 13
Avg. Per Rush 4.5 | 3.2 3.7 | 3.2
Passing Yards 2,0402,476 1,892 | 2,364
Pass Avg. Per Game 204.0247.6 88 | 52 189.2 | 236.4 12 | 75
Total Offense 3,9793,833 3,192 | 3,476
Total Off Avg. Per Game 397.9 | 383.3 71 | 83 319.2 | 347.6 9 | 19
Kick Return Average 18.6 | 22.9 106 | 39 24.3 | 21.9 107 | 74
Punt Return Average 16.9 | 6.6 3 | 82 5.1 | 7.4 26 | 57
Avg. Time of Possession 31:4032:11 31 | 22 28:20 | 27:49
3rd Down Conversion Pct 47% | 38% 24 | 74 36% | 39% 37 | 67
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 9-36 | 31-230 T9 | T113 17-64 | 20-155 T81 | T61
Touchdowns Scored 32 | 42 22 | 27
Field Goals-Attempts 14-18 | 16-23 11-13 | 22-27
Red Zone Scores (31-40)77% | (36-43)84% 94 | T56 (17-20)85% | (30-34)88% 80 | 97
Red Zone Touchdowns (20-40)50% | (26-43)60% (9-20)45% | (17-34)50%

The main thing that stands out from Iowa’s stats this season is the defense, which ranks ninth nationally in total defense, 12th in scoring defense, 12th against the pass, and 24th against the run. The Hawkeyes held Ohio State to 34 points, the Buckeyes’ second-lowest total of the season, and 15 points below their season average. In addition, the 30 points Iowa allowed to Northern Illinois were their second lowest total of the season and nearly 15 points below their season average.

Kevonte Martin-Manley has returned two punts for touchdowns this season (Denny Medley, US Presswire)

That doesn’t bode well for a Michigan offense struggling to move the ball and score points. Prior to overtime against Northwestern, Michigan’s offense had scored just one touchdown in three full games. The Wolverines managed to score two in the three overtime stanzas, but Iowa’s defense will be a much tougher test than Nebraska and Northwestern’s were the past two weeks.

Offensively, Iowa is rather pedestrian. The Hawkeyes rank second to last in the Big Ten in points per game (26.6), ahead of only lowly Purdue. They have scored more than 30 points just twice all season, in a 59-3 win over Western Michigan and a 38-14 win over Purdue. Otherwise, the Hawkeyes have been pretty consistently in the mid-20s all season.

Iowa ranks seventh in the conference in total offense, slightly ahead of Michigan, averaging about 15 more total yards more than Michigan per game. The Hawkeyes rank fifth with 194.4 rushing yards per game and seventh with 204 passing yards per game. Michigan currently ranks 11th and fourth, respectively. When it comes to pass efficiency, Iowa is ahead of only Michigan State and Purdue.

One insane stat is the pass protection that Iowa’s offensive line has given quarterback Jake Rudock. He has been sacked just nine times through ten games this season, which is tied with Michigan State for the fewest in the Big Ten and ranks ninth nationally. By comparison, Michigan has given up 19 sacks in just the past three games. The good news for Michigan is that Iowa’s defense has gotten to the opposing quarterback just 17 times all season – three fewer than Michigan.

Perhaps the best stat for the Hawkeyes is the punt return average for receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. On 14 returns, he is averaging 18.8 yards, which is more than twice as many as the second-best in the Big Ten. It’s also good for third best nationally. Kick returns are a different story, however, as Iowa averages a Big Ten-worst 18.6 yards per return.

It is sure to be a hostile environment as it always is in Kinnick Stadium. Iowa needs a win to assure itself a winning season. Michigan needs a win to carry over the momentum from its overtime win over Northwestern into next week’s showdown with Ohio State.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Rating
Jake Rudock 167-279 1,916 14 9 127.6
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Mark Weisman 167 777 4 37 4.7
Damon Bullock 108 455 1 22 4.2
Jordan Canzeri 49 338 2 43 6.9
Jake Rudock (QB) 49 188 5 31 3.8
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Kevonte Martin-Manley 35 304 3 22 33.8
Damond Powell 12 291 2 74 32.3
Tevaun Smith 19 213 0 36 21.3
CJ Fiedorowicz (TE) 20 188 4 18 18.8
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Anthony Hitchens (LB) 37 50 87 10.0-16 2.0-3
James Morris (LB) 19 42 81 10.0-34 (3INT) 5.0-22 (1FR)
Drew Ott (DE) 18 25 43 6.5-11 2.5-5
BJ Lowery (DB) 32 18 50 1.0-2 (3INT) 0-0 (13PBU)
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Mike Meyer 18 14 49 31 31
Punting Punts Yds Avg. TB In 20
Connor Kornbrath 47 1,884 40.1 2 21
Full Stats

Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013


1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #16 Northwestern 40-30 This Week: Bye (10/19 vs Iowa)

Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes earned their top-five ranking on Saturday by storming into Chicago and beating Northwestern 40-30 on national television. In potentially the biggest game in recent program history, the Wildcats shut down star quarterback Braxton Miller but couldn’t quiet the Ohio State running game. Hyde showed how dangerous the balanced Buckeye offense can be by rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Though the defense gave up over 400 total yards, Ohio State took care of a tough road challenge and remains the top team in the Leaders Division.

2. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs #19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Following a loss in Columbus, Wisconsin had a bye week to prepare for Northwestern during week six. The 3-2 record is deceiving for the Badgers considering the manner in which they lost both games. Wisconsin was one final drive away from forcing overtime against Ohio State and the questionable clock management by officials cost them the game against Arizona State. Though the gap between the two is considerably large, Wisconsin seems to be the second-toughest team in the division.

3. Indiana (3-2, 1-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Penn State 44-24 This Week: Saturday at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

The Hoosiers had an impressive showing in their Big Ten opener, dropping 44 points and 486 yards on the Penn State defense. Indiana continues to showcase an explosive offense, controlling the ball for under 25 minutes yet managing to score on seven separate drives. Nate Sudfeld leads a formidable passing attack that put up 336 yards through the air on Saturday. The most welcome sight for Indiana fans was the 150 yards on the ground, which gave the offense a balanced attack through running back Tevin Coleman. In order to have a real chance to win the division, the Hoosiers will have to better control the clock and hide a porous defense.

4. Illinois (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 39-19 This Week: Bye (10/19 vs Wisconsin)

Illinois lost their conference opener to Nebraska by allowing well over 300 yards on the ground. With star quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting out, the Illini had a chance to challenge Nebraska on the road. Unfortunately, the defensive line forgot to show up. Ameer Abdullah shredded Illinois with 225 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and gave the rest of the Big Ten a nearly-full-proof template of how to dominate the Fighting Illini.

5. Penn State (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Indiana 44-24 This Week: Saturday vs #18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0), 5pm, ESPN

It was a unique recipe for disaster in Indianapolis for Penn State: they dominated the time of possession, gained over 400 yards and their freshman quarterback had three touchdowns to zero interceptions. Alas, the Nittany Lions lost by 20 to Indiana. Penn State players already know they can’t go to a bowl game this season, and so far their play hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant one anyways.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Nebraska (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Boilermakers took a much needed hiatus Saturday after losing two straight games by 31 points. In week seven the drubbings should continue, however, as Purdue welcomes a hot Nebraska offense to West Lafayette.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Michigan (5-0, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 42-13 This Week: Saturday at Penn State (3-2, 0-1), 5pm, ESPN

The Wolverines shoot up the rankings after finally showing that the offensive line can produce a running game. Though the rushing numbers don’t jump out, the offense was consistently able to pick up first downs on the ground and avoid negative plays for the first time in 2013. As a result, quarterback Devin Gardner ended his nine-game interception streak and used play action and bootlegs to pick up two total touchdowns and complete 13 of 17 passes. If the defensive line can manage to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks Michigan will be in business.

2. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Illinois 39-19 This Week: Saturday at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Cornhusker offense is the real deal. Similarly to when Kenny Guiton starred in Columbus, the Nebraska offense went off against Illinois with Taylor Martinez on the sideline. Ameer Abdullah allows Nebraska to control the trenches and the clock; which he showcased with over 200 rushing yards on Saturday. When Taylor Martinez returns to the field this offense is one of the best in the country.

3. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #4 Ohio State 40-30 This Week: Saturday at Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Wildcat fans took a tough loss Saturday night with the eyes of the nation on Ryan Field. In the first half, Northwestern looked poised to upset the powerhouse Buckeyes, but they fell apart at the end and allowed four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes. Venric Mark couldn’t get going against Ohio State’s defense and the entire offensive load fell on the shoulders of quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter. The two signal-callers answered with 343 yards on a 81 percent completion rate, but couldn’t match the 40 points Ohio State dropped on their defense.

4. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Iowa 26-14 This Week: Saturday vs Indiana (3-2, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Michigan State went into Ames, Iowa to face a team that was feeling extremely confident off of a four-game winning streak. Then they hit the brick wall that is Michigan States’ defense. Iowa failed to pick up a first down in the first 20 minutes of the game and besides back-to-back touchdowns late in the second quarter, couldn’t move the ball at all. The Spartans held Iowa to 23 total rushing yards.

5. Iowa (4-2, 1-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Michigan State 26-14 This Week: Bye (10/19 at #4 Ohio State)

The Hawkeyes put themselves back in the picture with four wins to follow an opening loss, but for a team that was a long shot to win the division in the first place, it has to win home games to have a chance. Unfortunately, Mark Weisman, who had been carrying the offense, disappeared and Iowa couldn’t move the ball. It’s a real uphill battle for the Hawkeyes following this loss.

6. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #19 Michigan 42-13 This Week: Bye (10/19 at #19 Northwestern)

Just when the Golden Gophers were starting get excited, they hit a two-game losing streak and find themselves in last place in the Big Ten. Between the now-struggling offense and Head Coach Jerry Kill’s frequent game day seizures, Minnesota has too many issues to count.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


1. Ohio State (3-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat California 52-34 This Week: Saturday vs Florida A&M (1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

After the trip to California in which the Ohio State offense dismantled the Bears, Urban Meyer’s team is the obvious favorite to win the Leaders Division. The Buckeyes dropped 52 points on Cal without their Heisman candidate Braxton Miller. Instead, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton strapped on his helmet and threw for four touchdowns and almost 300 yards. Ohio State’s many offensive weapons were on display as they rolled without their offensive leader.

2. Wisconsin (2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Arizona State 32-30 This Week: Saturday vs Purdue (1-2), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

The Badgers had their hearts broken Saturday night, after delayed reactions by the officials seemingly cost them a chance to kick a game-winning field goal. Wisconsin played a tough Arizona State team on the road and looked poised to walk away with a one-point victory until an odd kneel by Joel Stave confounded the refs enough to let the clock hit zero. Nonetheless, Wisconsin has its first loss of the year, and the passing defense is as much to blame as the officials. After shutting out two weak opponents to start the season, the Badgers showed their true colors in their first real test, giving up 352 yards through the air. To challenge Ohio State, they will need to shore up that secondary.

3. Illinois (2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #19 Washington 34-24 This Week: Bye (Sat. 9/28 vs Miami OH)

Illinois was one of the many Big Ten teams hosting ranked opponents this weekend, as they fell at the hands of No. 19 Washington. The fans at Soldier field were treated to an entertaining offensive display, as Illinois surrendered over 600 yards of offense. Nathan Scheelhaase struggled mightily, completing only nine of 25 pass attempts. Despite the 34-24 final score, the Fighting Illini were dominated in this game.

4. Indiana (2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Bowling Green 42-10 This Week: Saturday vs Missouri (2-0), 8pm, Big Ten Network

Following a loss at home to Navy, Indiana bounced back to beat Bowling Green 42-10. Nate Sudfeld led an impressive offense that posted just over 600 yards. Defensively, Indiana struggled but was able to tighten things up in its own territory, giving up only 10 points despite Bowling Green’s 409 total yards.

5. Penn State (1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to UCF 34-31 This Week: Saturday vs Kent State (1-2), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Bill O’Brien’s took a tough loss at home on Saturday; becoming the first Big Ten team to ever lose to Central Florida. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was impressive for the third straight week, completing 75 percent of his passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. The Nittany Lions just couldn’t stop the Knights on defense, giving up 34 points and over 500 total yards. Though they can’t play in the Big Ten Championship this season, Penn State will have to defend much better to play spoiler during the next few months.

6. Purdue (1-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #21 Notre Dame 31-24 This Week: Saturday at #24 Wisconsin (2-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Notre Dame faced a seven-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, but Purdue fell apart and surrendered two passing scores, including an 82-yard touchdown, and a pick-six to give the Irish the victory. Purdue gave their rivals a run for their money, but in the end they came out as the only Big Ten team with a losing record.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Northwestern (3-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 38-17 This Week: Saturday vs Maine (3-0), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats played their first non-BCS opponent on Saturday, blowing out Western Michigan thanks to a big second quarter. Northwestern scored 24 points in the second to pull away from the Broncos and move to 3-0 on the season. Treyvon Green and the Wildcats rushing attack led the way, racking up 332 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

2. Michigan (3-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Akron 28-24 This Week: Saturday at UConn (0-2), 8pm, ABC

The Wolverines narrowly avoided disaster on Saturday thanks to a goal line stand that gave them a four-point win over the lowly Akron Zips. Defensively, Michigan failed to get much pressure on Kyle Pohl and the Zips took advantage by shredding the secondary with big plays over the middle. Quarterback Devin Gardner continued to make questionable decisions, throwing three interceptions including his second pick-six in as many weeks. Michigan fans hope that this performance was a fluke and that the team that beat No. 14 Notre Dame under the lights returns next weekend as the team hits the road for the first time.

3. Michigan State (3-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Youngstown State 55-17 This Week: Saturday at #22 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30pm, NBC

Michigan State finally had a decisive victory on Saturday, routing Youngstown State 55-17. The Spartan offense, which has struggled terribly in the first two weeks, was impressive behind quarterback Connor Cook. Cook has four touchdowns and zero interceptions and Michigan State put up over 500 yards on offense. This team will be one of the best in the conference on defense, and if they can put up even half of the points they did in week three, they’ll be a factor in the Big Ten.

4. Nebraska (2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #16 UCLA 41-21 This Week: Saturday vs South Dakota State (3-0), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Nebraska was looking strong after a 21-3 start against No. 16 UCLA on Saturday. However, the wheels came off for the Cornhuskers and they ended up getting blown out after surrendering 38 straight points. The defense fell apart in the second half and Nebraska failed to win its only signature nonconference game.

5. Minnesota (3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 29-12 This Week: Saturday vs San Jose State (1-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Gopher nation suffered a scare on Saturday, as Head Coach Jerry Kill watched from the hospital following another seizure. Minnesota stayed focused, however, and beat Western Illinois to stay undefeated. The Golden Gophers are playing perhaps the weakest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten, so when conference play begins, expect an immediate drop-off.

6. Iowa (2-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Iowa State 27-21 This Week: Saturday vs Western Michigan (0-3), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Two weeks after the opening loss to Northern Illinois, the Hawkeyes seem to be righting the ship. They took care of in-state rival Iowa State for the first time in three years on Saturday and continue to ride on the back of Mark Weisman, who had 35 more carries in week three. Picking up a win on the road should be a shot in the arm for this team, and they could be a pesky matchup for Legends Division contenders.

Friend vs Foe: Iowa edition

Thursday, November 15th, 2012


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.

The case for Iowa
by RossWB

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.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

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.