Iowa Hawkeye fans provide Cher with the answer that has eluded her since 1999. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Sure, Iowa just hung on for an upset victory against Michigan, 24-16. But what was really important about beating Michigan? How much do we really know? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
Michigan, you got Demarlo'd! It's not entirely fair to compare Junior Hemingway's attempted one-hand grab with Demarlo Belcher's extremely unfortunate drop against Iowa in 2010; Belcher's catch was orders of magnitude easier, it would have won the game outright, and it came on 4th down, not 2nd like Hemingway's. Those are all the differences.
That all said, Michigan had a potential game-tying TD (pending the conversion, of course) in its proverbial hands and the receiver just plain couldn't pull the ball in correctly, and that's the type of margin that exists in close games like this. If all you want to do is take positives from the previous 59 minutes and 58 seconds just because Hemingway can't make a falling one-handed grab, that's your prerogative, but it's a dumb way to learn anything about football.
No, the fact is that Iowa won this game in the first three quarters, and for once failed to give the game away late, as is often the Hawkeyes' prerogative. The problem's not solved. It just didn't affect the W/L columns this time.
If you invite Broderick Binns to make a big play, he'll do it. Marvin McNutt set a career high for receptions and topped 100 receiving yards for the sixth time this season (he had done it three times in his career before the 2011 season), Marcus Coker posted 100 yards and two scores for the sixth time in nine games this year, and James Vandenberg increased his TD-INT ratio to 18-4 on the year while avoiding getting wrecked on perimeter blitzes. These are Iowa's offensive stars, and they came up big once again this week.
And yet, the (rightful) victor in Ross' man of the match poll this week is Broderick Binns, who made life hell for both Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner on the defense's left edge. Binns posted three passes broken up, two tackles for a loss, one sack, and a forced intentional grounding penalty on the week, and his job of funneling Denard Robinson on rushes to the right was downright heroic. It's a lot easier to contain Robinson if he's not allowed to get to the corner with impunity, but that is far easier said than done -- especially when accounting for the pass option, which is a set of responsibilities that's expansive enough to keep most defensive ends flat-footed when it's time to make a play on Robinson.
And so, for whatever reason, Michigan tried to roll its quarterbacks toward Binns and then throw right past him, and that is a sensationally bad idea against the defensive end with probably the longest arms in the league. Binns is far from a flawless defensive end -- run right at him with a double-team, for example, and that point of attack belongs entirely to the offense -- but if you force him to use his long arms or otherwise play the pass, he's probably going to succeed.
Marcus Coker might yet be the best back in the Big Ten after all. Is Marcus Coker definitively the best back in the conference? No. But he's on the short list, and you could make the case that he's atop the list. Here are the Big Ten-only stats per game (since, let's be honest, what you do to Northeast Butt State doesn't matter) of Dan Herron, Rex Burkhead, Montee Ball, Silas Redd, and Marcus Coker -- generally accepted as the top five halfbacks in the Big Ten this season.
Back A: 5 games, 19.8 rushes, 143.2 yards, 2.4 rushing TDs; 1.4 receptions, 21.8 yards, 0.4 receiving TDs
Back B: 5 games, 24.8 rushes, 106.2 yards, 1.2 rushing TDs; 2.4 receptions, 21.8 yards, 0.4 receiving TDs
Back C: 5 games, 24.8 rushes, 144.2 yards, 1.6 rushing TDs; 0.4 receptions, 7.6 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Back D: 3 games, 23.3 rushes, 147.6 yards, 0.6 rushing TDs; 0.3 receptions, -1.0 yards, 0 receiving TDs
Back E: 5 games, 26.6 rushes, 140.6 yards, 0.6 rushing TDs; 0.8 receptions, 2.0 yards, 0 receiving TDs
If you haven't figured it out, the five players are merely listed in alphabetical order, which means Back C is Coker, and he absolutely holds his own with his peers. Better yet, he doesn't even resemble the tentative, fumble-prone back that was wearing his jersey in the first month of the season; that back got yards, but it always seemed like he wasn't even close to maximizing his production considering what the line was doing. That criticism is no longer valid; Coker is initiating contact and mashing fools, and his fumble problems have concurrently disappeared. Considering Iowa lost its top backup after one quarter of the season and Ferentz has basically leaned on Coker as an exclusive ball-carrier, that's a remarkable feat.
This is still Iowa's story to write. Let's say Iowa has a 40% chance to beat MSU (who is -3 in early lines) this week, 70% to win at OUR MOST HATED RIVAL Purdue, and (generously) 25% at Nebraska. Cumulatively, that would give Iowa a 7% chance of running the table, which is truly not good. But we're sayin' there's a chance. The beauty of it all is that by winning out, which week-to-week is not all that implausible, Iowa makes it to the Big Ten championship game, where the current favorite to represent the Leaders Division is Penn State. We want a Penn State rematch on a neutral field, don't we? We've got to.
Of course, for Iowa to run the table, it's going to take a higher level of play than we've seen from the Hawkeyes all season long, and that's why this is a longshot above all else; let's not be upset if Iowa ends up 7-5 and headed to the Gator Bowl or Pizza Pizza Bowl or Whatever Nobody Cares Bowl. Iowa had its chances to win the games that Top 25 teams are supposed to win, and the Hawkeyes blew those chances twice, so in a division-less Big Ten, here we are so [descending sunglasses] deal with it already.
But we're in the Legends Division, damn it, and in Legendary Historic Legends Division, late-season runs mean something. So let's see Iowa hold serve at home and give the Kinnick faithful an unbeaten season in the friendly confines, then take the fight to the road and put Iowa in position to make a postseason splash in a season we all left for dead.