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.
|#13 Michigan v. Iowa
||Saturday Nov. 5
12 p.m. ET
|Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
||Tennessee Tech 34-7
|#23 Michigan State 14-28
||Iowa State 41-44 OT
Penn State 3-13
|| Total Offense
|| Scoring Defense
|| Rush Defense YPG
|| Pass Defense YPG
|| Total Defense YPG
|| Sacks By/Allowed
|| Third-down Conv.
|| Field Goals
|| Net Punt Avg.
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.
Marcus Coker leads the Big Ten in rushing (photo by Tom Olmscheid, AP)
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.
Marvin McNutt is the Big Ten's second-leading receiver (photo by Brian Ray, AP)
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.
Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to win, but Michigan is 15-5-1 there all-time
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:
Michigan leads the all-time series 40-12-4, including 16-5-1 at Iowa
Michigan’s three October wins were more than the las three Octobers combined (two)
In each of the last five games, Michigan scored a touchdown on its opening possession
Denard Robinson leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per completion (16.74)
Michigan ranks first in the nation in red zone defense, giving up scores on just 15-of-25 chances (60 percent)
Michigan has outscored its opponents 135-49 in the second half and 229-68 from the second through fourth quarters
Fitz Toussaint’s 170 rushing yards were the most by a Michigan running back in a conference game since Mike Hart’s 195 yards against Minnesota in 2006
Michigan’s offense ranks 2nd in the Big Ten and 7th nationally in third down conversions (51 percent)
Michigan has committed just 34 penalties through eight games, which ranks 1st in the Big Ten and 9th nationally
| 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
With 104 passing yards, Denard will pass Rick Leach (1975-78) for 9th in career passing yards. With 203, he can pass Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th
With 23 rushing yards, Denard will pass Gordon Bell (1973-75) for 9th on Michigan’s career rushing list
With 1 rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie with Tom Harmon (1938-40) and Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 7th place. With 2, he will reach Steve Smith (1980-83) for 6th
With 50 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway could move into the top 20 in career receiving yards, passing Ralph Clayton (1976-79), John Kolesar (1985-88), and Adrian Arrington (2004-07)