An alliterative look at the keys to the game for Iowa against Michigan tomorrow.
So football. Who's excited?! There's a game tomorrow and for the first time in years, I can't, even in with my black and gold glasses on, see how Iowa can win this game. It's an awkward feeling.
But unlike me, and probably unlike you, and probably unlike every other Hawkeye fan out there, I don't think the coaches or the players have given up on this season. They will be ready to play tomorrow and will make it a game. That's just what Kirk Ferentz does.
And over the past 3 years, Iowa has had Michigan's number. They've been able to slow down Denard Robinson and Michigan's offenses just enough, and have abused the bad Wolverine defenses. But Denard might not even play tomorrow (or at least not more than one snap) and there is no way Iowa is going to abuse the Wolverine defense. For one, it is much improved, and two, well you know...Greg Davis.
It's Michigan's senior day. They are 7-3 and ranked #21 in the country. So how is Iowa going to make this a game?
Make Brendan Gibbons work
Michigan's placekicker, Brendan Gibbons, has been fantastic this year. He is 16/18 on field goals and has made some clutch kicks. Just last week he sent the game to overtime on a last second, 26-yard FG. And against Michigan State, he nailed a 38-yard game-winner with 5-second left.
But, the games he has to work the hardest and the games that Michigan has struggled the most. Against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Nebraska, the Michigan offense couldn't find the end zone. Gibbons made 2, 4, and 3 FGs in those games respectively. And Michigan lost 2 of those games and got extremely lucky to win the third.
So, Iowa needs to do the same. It'll be the same game plan as every other week: limit the big plays and clamp down in the red zone. Bend, don't break. Rinse, repeat.
The key to this whole thing will be to contain whoever is playing quarterback. It'll likely be Devin Gardner, who has been very good the past 2 weeks. He's accounted for 7 TDs in 2 games and has made big plays through the air and with his feet. He isn't quite the threat to run like Denard, but will buy time by moving around in the pocket and find receivers down field. He can be a little cavalier with the ball at times, and has thrown a pick both weeks.
It'll be a tall task, but if Iowa can limit UM to kicking a bunch of field goals and maybe capitalize on a turnover, like they've done the past couple of week, then maybe they can stay in this game.
Re-establish the run
Iowa's run game has been a mess the past few weeks largely due to injury setbacks. The offensive line has been has played poorly, especially the guards as Iowa as tried to find a combination that works. Without Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock has been the sole ball carrier. He's been okay at times, but needs help. And with no Brad Rogers, the fullback position has been stripped from the offense.
But Weisman should be back tomorrow. Hopefully he's 100% and not the shell we saw a few weeks back when he tried to play through an ankle injury. He could definitely provide a boost to the offense, and we may actually get to the see the Weisman-Bullock backfield we've been waiting for.
Michigan's defense has been good against the run this year, and is second in conference play in yards allowed per rushing attempt (3.5). But the Wolverine D hasn't been impenetrable. Northwestern last week amassed almost 250 rushing yards and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah went for over 100 a couple weeks ago.
The good news, maybe, is that UM's defensive tackles aren't particularly disruptive in the backfield. (They are huge though...Will Campbell is listed at 6-5, 308 and Quinton Washington at 6-4, 300.) So maybe the guards won't get blown up this week.
The same formula
Iowa has rattled off 3-straight against the Wolverines for the first time in history. It's been basically the same formula all 3 years: bottle up the run, make some big plays on offense, then hold on for dear life.
All 3 of those things aren't going so well for Iowa this year, so it's going to be a tough formula to follow. Iowa has been okay against the run at times, but the defensive line seems to have peaked early in the season and hasn't done much the past few weeks. The linebackers are banged up and getting benched and a question mark for tomorrow. If Iowa can manage to keep UM's rushing total around 150 yards, then I think they have a chance of keeping it close.
Big plays on offense probably just aren't going to happen. Maybe the can come from the defense or from special teams. But hey, we did see a ball actually thrown across the goal line, into the end zone last week. So, progress.
And, if somehow Iowa does manage to keep the game close and take the lead on its usual early 4th quarter, one good drive of the game, then they'll need to hold on for dear life. The last couple of weeks that hasn't gone so well. But for whatever reason, Iowa has been able to stifle late game drives by Michigan the past couple of years.
Don't go 3-and-out
Iowa has gone 3-and-out 5 times in each of the last two weeks, and 16 times total during its 4 game skid. That is bad. In conference play, Iowa is converting on 3rd down just 33% of the time (that's 9th in the B1G). Not helping things out, Michigan's defense has been very good on stopping 3rd downs. They are 2nd in the conference allowing conversions just 31% of the time.
To make matters even worse, Michigan isn't going to go 3-and-out very often. They lead the B1G, converting over half of their 3rd downs. And, Iowa's 3rd down defense is last in the conference, breaking 46% of the time. The way this is shaping up, any 3rd down stop may be a win for Iowa's defense. So yeah, the point is, try to control the ball a little and keep it out of Michigan's hands.
This game has all the makings for a blowout, but I think Iowa finds a way to keep it just close enough to get my hopes up only to have them ripped away and stomped on. I think Iowa runs the ball better than in the previous two weeks and is able to partially slow the Michigan offense. Iowa covers (the spread was at 17 last time I checked), but falls short.
Final Score: Iowa 14 - Michigan 23