I. Review of the Numbers.
If we examine yesterday's box score of Michigan-Michigan State we learn three things:
a. Michigan State could not have dreamed themselves to a better offensive balance, running for 249, passing for 287, totaling 536. What else could you possibly ask for?
b. Football is not about rolling up gaudy statistics, other than the endgame numbers on the scoreboard and turnover-takeaways, because by that measure, Kirk Cousins did not improve his standing v. Denard Robinson. Query: which quarterback do you want running your offense if you fall behind, today?
c. If your primary offensive weapon runs for 80 and throws three picks, are you in good shape against one of the top five defenses in the country?
II. The Qualitatives.
Now, continuing, if we review the live action:
a. MSU was, apparently, a half-step faster and playing with a half-step better leverage, than Michigan's prior five opponents. Denard was repeatedly tackled from behind, at the second level, at ankle level. The man is dangerous, but if you can get your hands on him he will go down. He remains a very, very dangerous man with the ball. MSU won because he didn't penetrate the second level. But he almost did, repeatedly. Nota bene. MSU had way too many ankle tackles of Denard.
b. Michigan failed to tackle anyone in the broken field with any authority, even when MSU backs were carrying the arms and torsos of Michigan defenders. To paraphrase Tyler Sash, earlier this week, they "guard", they don't tackle. I suspect that is because they "guard" all spring and summer, when they are playing their own. It is the inverse of our O-Line having to compete with our D-Line in camp. Surviving against those monsters means that you have prepared against the best in the country. Surviving against Denard means that you never learn to hit, control the LOS, tackle, or intimidate. Basically, Michigan doesn't play defense. They are playing some other game that I haven't seen before. I don't know what it is. But it isn't major college football.
c. Michigan, in its "guarding", has exactly one DB who plays with leverage and tackles like the Michiganders of old, and he is their slowest: former walk-on Jordan Kovacs.
So, what does this mean?
Iowa can lose this game, but Michigan should not be able to win it. Michigan has half-a-dozen extremely high-talent slots playing multiple positions. From a classical football perspective, half of their offense is playing out-of-position. Michigan has a much quicker O-Line, a much more athletic and conditioned O-Line, than ever before. Michigan does not punish and does not try to punish a defensive front; Michigan cannot pass well against a schematically sound defense; Michigan will quick you to death if you are lazy or slow or stupid; Michigan creates fear and respect from speed, but not strength, toughness, or being multiple. I can't tell, but is this even tackle football? This is how you win flag football. But tackle football?
On defense, Michigan's weaknesses are epic. They appeared to play with enthusiasm for a quarter, then appeared to be shrinking in the face of their own prior ineptitude, and MSU's relentless devotion to its game, its plan, and its contemptuous physicality. By the second quarter their body language expressed mystery, dread and fatigue. Michigan was disruptive for a time by gambling with blitzes, and then they were just undressed by them. Michigan is slow, runs away from contact, and tackles as though they are converted soccer players. Michigan has six games of defensive nightmares, and now we're in week seven, in the Big Ten, and they are attacking the LOS with three D-Linemen? How many years do you think will pass, after Robinson is scapegoated and relieved of duty, before we see a Big Ten DC play football in October with three down linemen on first down? Who will take my bet that Michigan does not play a 3-3-5 next year?
Special teams: how is it possible that Michigan conveys less confidence and clarity with its field goal unit than Iowa?
Is there a deep four that plays with more cushion and shies from contact with more enthusiasm than Michigan's?
Does Michigan have a middle linebacker who is going to cover the deep middle in their cover-2? When Iowa is running play-action and releasing Allen Reisner and Brad Herman on the verticals, their corners are rotating up to the flat, and our slots are springing corner routes? What are they going to do?
Does Michigan even have a zone-read option if Karl Klug, Christian Ballard and Mike Daniels penetrate? (Georgia Tech found that nothing -- *nothing*-- worked in the best run-game scheme of the past 30 years, and that's because we had tackles that blew up two men on each play, destroying the dive option.) Absent a credible dive option in RichRod's offense, will Iowa just blow though their guards and center and destroy the initial read? Or will Michigan be reduced to those straight QB sweeps, at Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, and Ballard? By the end of the game, Michigan was just running straight QB sweeps.
Will Michigan's quick and conditioned O-Line even get to the second-level to spring Denard? The game is over if they cannot.
Who will play the Bob Sanders role in being Denard's spy? Remember, Sanders ran a 4.35 at the combine, and we have no one that quick, much less anyone that quick and that devastating on contact. Sanders shut down Antwaan Randle-El, but who at Iowa can do the same with Denard? No one. We have to play with superior leverage and give up no more than one big play, or we risk everything.
Michigan is the best flag football team that ever existed. Stanzi has to press and revert to old ways, our defense has to go in overconfident and sloppy, or Denard has to, in seven days, learn to pass under pressure, for Iowa to lose. Iowa's vulnerabilities are at running back, middle linebacker, and the yet-unproven New Brain of the Stanzi.
I expect Iowa to bland them to death, control clock even better than MSU, control the LOS and run up fewer yards but at equivalent, balanced numbers as Michigan State. Our tight-ends should have career games. It would be pleasurable but unlikely for Denard to be blind-sided a couple of times, for good measure. I expect to see Baby Jesus Tate Forcier make a frantic return to the field sometime late Q3. Think about that: the most prodigious quarterback in decades may well be replaced before the fourth quarter, provided Iowa plays assignment football and demonstrates (as we should) total physical mastery. A-Rob will have a bullseye on his forehead and his back, and the refs had better police the dirty stuff. On balance, there is no single position at which Iowa suffers physical or schematic disadvantage, provided the game played is tackle, not flag, football.