He ran, he threw, he conquered. Devin Gardner scored 6 touchdowns as he thoroughly destroyed the Iowa defense.
Urban Dictionary defines Gardnered as "To be minding one's own business and then find one's self hit in the head (usually with a soft projectile)." That has nothing to do with this post.
Devin Gardner scored 6 touchdowns against Iowa. He ran for 3 and threw for 3 more. Two of his rushing touchdowns were on 4th down and two of his passing touchdowns came on 3rd-and-long. That was the kind of day it was for the Hawkeyes.
With zero expectations that Iowa would win this game, I actually found it kind of enjoyable to watch. At the end of the first quarter, it was 7-7 and I was feeling pretty good. Even at 10-14, I wasn't too down on the game and though, hey, if the defense can just get a stop here... By half time, of course, the game was essentially over and instead of the usual heart-attack Hawks, it was a relaxing coast to the end of the game and the end to any bowl hopes.
Four factors in review
Make Brendan Gibbons work - Well, Gibbons did have to kick 6 PATs. But that definitely wasn't the type of work I was hoping for. Iowa's defense was all sorts of fail. It wasn't bend, but don't break. It was break, break again, and again, and again until all that was left was little tiny pieces of broken bowl hopes.
Michigan scored TDs on each of its first 6 possession. The Wolverines could do no wrong. 3rd-and-17, no problem...37 yard TD pass. 4th-and-1...just a little stroll into the end-zone. The entire defense struggled. The defensive line failed to get any pressure what-so-ever. The 3rd-and-Goal play where Devin Gardner had what felt like hours to sit back in the pocket, epitomized the Hawk's D-line.
The linebackers were ineffective. Bruised, broken, or backups they failed to slow Michigan's cutesy run game and were a step slow in coverage.
The secondary...oh the secondary. I don't even know what to say. Iowa rotated through 5 different safeties and none played well. There were more broken coverages than I can ever remember in a single game. And even when the coverage was good, Iowa failed to make play.
Re-establish the run - Hey, hey, hey. Mark Weisman was back, mostly healthy, and looked like he hadn't missed a beat. He finished with just 16 carries for 63 yards, but had an obvious impact on the game. He ran for first downs, picked up positive yardage when the holes were small, and really help set up Iowa's play-action game.
Greg Garmon also had his best game of the year. He had 30 yards on 10 carries and looked good catching the ball out of the backfield. Other than his terrible decision to try and reverse field, in which he lost 8 yards, he played very well.
The unfortunate thing was that Damon Bullock missed the game. AIRBHG, seriously. I'd love to see Weisman and Bullock healthy at the same time. I think Iowa could have something good there. Not to get too optimistic about next year, because it's Iowa running backs, but there could be something there. Garmon's looking better, Canzeri will be back, and a couple of freshmen will be there too.
The same formula - The formula was supposed to be keep the game within striking distance, take the lead in the 4th quarter, then hold on for dear life. But after about 3 Michigan drives it became pretty clear Iowa wasn't going to keep pace.
Don't go 3-and-out - Iowa's very first possession they went 3-and-out, and did so 3 more times. It was during those 3 other 3-and-outs that spanned across half time where Michigan really took over the game. So, not much improvement here.
Iowa's other drive though, were much better. Iowa had 5 longish drives, but only scored 3 times. The other two drives ended on failed 4th down conversions.
On the other side of the ball, things were worse. I almost joked on Friday after noting that Michigan was first in the conference in converting 3rd downs and Iowa was last on stopping them, that Michigan just might convert on 100% of their third downs. In reality, they went 9 of 12. However, on two of those non-conversions, they picked up a TD on the ensuing 4th downs. So that wasn't any better.
Of the games
Let's do this thing. Unlike last week, I'm not too mad about this loss, so no reason to ignore the successes of this game.
Player of the game - C.J. Fiedorowicz finally showed up. He had 8 receptions for 99 yards and was Iowa's passing offense for a large part of the game. I'm not sure what happened to make him the main target. Maybe Vandenberg just decided just to start throwing his way. Maybe Greg Davis really emphasized it this week. Maybe the pre-snap reads said go to the TE. Whatever it was, let's see more of it.
While it was great to really CJF involved in the offense, is was 10 times more frustrating knowing that it was a successful tactic that has been completely ignored that previous 9 weeks.
Play of the game - It had to be the TD pass to Henry Krieger-Coble. It was a beautiful ball thrown up the seam right over the linebacker's reach. It was a play that we've been dying to see all year, but haven't.
Krieger-Coble hasn't really played very much, but saw quite a bit of action on Saturday. That was the case for a lot of players. Tevaun Smith has been progressively seeing more time and played his most this weekend. Travis Perry started in place of Anthony Hitchens. And I couldn't even tell you all the guys thrown in there at safety. The big one missing though was backup quarterback Jake Rudock. At this point, he must not be number 2 and whoever is number 2 is red-shirting. That's the only explanation.
Good coaching decision of the game - It's hard to say since the game was pretty much over before halftime. The quick-snap, QB sneak on 4th-and-1 during Iowa's first TD drive, was a nice play. It wasn't an uncommon play call, actually quite the opposite, but it had Michigan completely out of sorts and worked beautifully. I thought the 3rd down run the play before was a good call too. Iowa was on Michigan's 34 yard line facing 3rd and 5...2-down territory. Weisman ran for 4 yards and Iowa was ready with the quick snap. Nicely done.
A slimmer of hope
Michigan's defense is number 1 in the country in passing yards allowed (look ahead: Nebraska is number 2) and yet Iowa had one of its better passing days. Vandenberg was 19 of 26 for 181 yards and 2 TDs (the only game this year he has thrown more than 1 TD). His passer rating for 156.9 was his best of the year. The passing game was successful by flowing through Fiedorowicz in the middle of the field.
Yes, there was still some horizontal stuff and throws short of the sticks, but it was much, much better. Iowa has been running a lot of the TE routes all year, but for the first time Vandenberg actually looked their way. It gives me a little hope that this part of the offense won't be lost on whoever takes over at QB next year.
Also, as mentioned the run game looked pretty solid. Weisman was Weisman and Garmon looked improved. I'm still not sold on Greg Davis and the offense he is trying to run, but for the first time in a quite a while (even though they only scored 17) it looked like the offense was progressing.