Game Preview: Michigan Wolverines
The non-conference season is behind us and Iowa's focus now shifts back to the Big Ten. Iowa will travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to square off with the 19th ranked (AP Poll) Michigan Wolverines at 11 A.M. Iowa enters as the 14th ranked team in both the AP and Coaches Polls after their thorough dismantling of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders by a score of 48-3. Iowa enters with a 4-0 (1-0) record. Michigan will enter off a convincing 52-0 victory over Rutgers sporting a 3-1 (1-1) record. The last time these two teams met, Iowa edged Michigan 14-13 on the strength of a Keith Duncan field goal as time expired.
Iowa's Offense Against The Wolverine Defense
There is a formula for Iowa to follow to have success against this talented Michigan defense. That formula comes in the form of the dominant performance that Wisconsin turned in against these Wolverines just 2 weeks ago. Wisconsin punched massive holes in the front seven of the Wolverines, and consistently generated push in the run game. The Badgers then used the success in the run game to open up the play action pass. I look for Iowa to employ a similar strategy.
With Alaric Jackson likely to return this week, Iowa should be able to impose their will on this Michigan defensive front. Mehki Sargent and Toren Young should have big days, and serve as the 1-2 punch that forms the backbone of the Iowa offense early. As the game wears on, expect Iowa to lean more heavily on the arm of Nate Stanley, as Michigan commits to slowing down Sargent and Young.
A player to watch in this one may be Oliver Martin. His story has been well documented. An Iowa City product who transferred back home after a stint in Ann Arbor, but there is a deeper intrigue for me concerning Martin than his Michigan ties. Oliver Martin has been regarded as a receiver that has a knack for getting open in man coverage. Michigan runs a ton of man coverage, and I look for Iowa to turn to Oliver Martin and Nico Rigaini to get open against that tight man coverage.
I don't expect this to be the best performance we've seen from this Iowa offense, but they should still find their fair share of success.
Iowa's Defense Against The Wolverine Offense
This matchup could go a long way towards determining the way Saturday turns out. Throughout the season, the Wolverine offense has been anything but consistent. With games like Rutgers showing how potent this offense can be, and the Wisconsin game showing how dysfuncitonal they can become when rattled. Again, much like with the Iowa offense against the Michigan defense, Wisconsin gave Iowa a blueprint to follow when it comes to keeping Michigan in check.
Michigan is susceptible to turnovers, boasting 3 interceptions thrown and 7 fumbles lost through 4 games. They also showed a perpensity to get rattled against Wisconsin. Iowa needs to press the issue early, somehow forcing Michigan into a turnover or punishing Michigan's quarterback with a sack early in the contest to shake the offense's confidence. I expect the defensive line to have a coming out party this week, with Shea Patterson being the guest of honor.
Patterson reminds me a lot of former Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who I affectionately referred to as Tommy Armpunt while he was a Husker. Throughout the Wisconsin game, Shea Patterson let loose some of the most wobbly throws since Tommy Armstrong. I think if they can force Shea Patterson to carry this Michigan offense, that would be the best case scenario for Iowa.
As with any big game that Iowa plays in, special teams is likely to have a huge impact in this game. Keith Duncan has been solid all year kicking field goals for Iowa, and he has proven himself against Michigan before. Beyond field goal kicking, Caleb Shudak has proven that he can do the job on kickoffs and I have been thoroughly impressed with Michael Sleep-Dalton. Iowa's special teams should be solid again, and are the least of my worries.
This will be Iowa's biggest test to date. Michigan boasts talent and speed at the skill positions, and I am a firm believer that the Michigan Wolverines never rebuild their talent pool, they just reload. If Iowa can cause an early mistake by the Michigan quarterback Patterson, that may be just enough to rattle this Michigan Wolverine team that got shell shocked by Wisconsin just two weeks ago.
Ultimately, I think Iowa goes into Ann Arbor and beats Michigan. I have not been impressed by anything Michigan has done to this point, and I get the feeling that this Iowa group has its best football in front of it. I think Iowa's offensive line punches holes in this Michigan and forces the Wolverines to over commit to the run. I see Iowa riding the running backs early, then exploiting that success to use the play action pass late. I see Stanley leading a late touchdown drive to ice the game in the closing minutes.
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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