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The Takeaway: Michigan

Sure, Iowa just beat Michigan, 38-28. But what was so important about beating Michigan? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer. Oh, and this one gets long. Sorry.

This installment of The Takeaway is about, uh, the takeaways.  Entering the game, it seemed clear that if one team controlled the turnover margin, they'd probably win; casting turnovers aside, both offenses looked capable of putting up similar numbers on the other. Remember, this game had about a four-point spread. And lo and behold, Iowa forced four turnovers while committing none, and it's awfully hard to argue that those turnovers weren't a major factor in Iowa's wins. Here they are, with game status (plus another play that technically wasn't a turnover but swung the game rather significantly):

  • 15:00, 2nd quarter, 1st and 15, Michigan 45: Denard Robinson throws a truly awful interception directly at Tyler Sash, who returns the ball into Michigan territory. Four plays later, Ricky Stanzi finds Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a touchdown, and Iowa leads 14-7.
  • 8:50, 2nd quarter, 4th and 16, Iowa 21: Michigan has a 12-play, 59-yard drive wiped out when Seth Broekhuizen's field goal attempt is blocked by Adrian Clayborn and/or Broderick Binns. Tyler Sash, seeing that nobody on the Michigan field goal team is particularly interested in the live ball since they're not allowed to advance it, picks the ball up and returns it. Had he not immediately run into Jeremiha Hunter, I'm convinced Sash would have sprung the return even farther. At any rate, Sash returns the ball into Michigan territory, and nine plays later, Adam Robinson puts Iowa up 21-7 with four minutes and change left in the half.
  • 6:52, 3rd quarter, 1st at 10, Iowa 14: Vincent Smith fumbles as he's hit by Karl Klug at the line, and Iowa recovers, stopping a 12-play, 71-yard drive that included two fourth-down conversions. Iowa goes three-and-out, but after the punt, Michigan is set back 50 yards, and things are about to get worse for MIchigan.
  • 4:30, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 5, Michigan 40: Tate Forcier, under pressure from Klug, throws into triple coverage for no discernable reason. Micah Hyde returns the ball into Michigan territory, but a penalty on the return puts the ball at Iowa's 37. No matter, as the Hawkeyes score on an Adam Robinson rush five plays later, and iowa leads 28-7.
  • 1:54, 4th quarter, 3rd and 19, Michigan 28: Forcier pulls a Darryl Clark and floats a throw into the middle of Iowa's zone, and Troy Johnson seals the game with the pick. Game over.

Meanwhile, Iowa afforded Michigan none of those mistakes. Sure, the Wolverines got a pretty easy touchdown when Hyde and Brett Greenwood biffed the coverage on an outside fly route by Junior Hemingway (and best believe Ferentz will let them have it in film coverage for that), but that's just an offense beating a defense, not a mistake on the level of giving up possession or anything. The bottom line: maybe Iowa wins if Michigan doesn't turn the ball over. Or maybe not. It's awfully nice to see that we didn't have to find that out on Saturday.

Adam Robinson is a consummate Hawkeye. One of the hallmarks of Iowa's truly successful teams is the leadership of a player -- often unheralded -- stepping up when needed most. In 2002, Iowa was led by Bob Sanders, Dallas Clark, Robert Gallery, and Brad Banks. The first three received a grand total of one scholarship offer from I-A schools not named Iowa, and the last was a spot-player the year prior who didn't have so much as honorable mention All-Big Ten hype coming into 2002. Iowa was a pretty solid eighth in Big Ten prognostications that year for that reason. In 2004, first-year starter Drew Tate was pressed into carrying the team after his entire running game blew its knee out. In 2008, Iowa's tumult at quarterback during the first half of the season forced the offense to depend on Shonn Greene, who hadn't even spent the last season training with a football program. In every single one of those cases, those players worked their asses off and stepped up to perform their position at levels that made the difference between winning and losing (often by the thinnest of margins).

And that brings us to Adam Robinson. The DM Lincoln alum didn't look like more than a marginal prospect at the outset of his career, earning the dreaded "two-star' designation from scouting services, and he initially only earned a greyshirt offer. A-Rob eventually got a full-fledged offer, but found himself buried on the depth charts and bouncing between offense and defense looking for a place to contribute.

Often, players like this transfer to lower programs, and nobody would have thought ill of Robinson if he'd had taken UNI up on their offer to him after his redshirt season; the depth chart in front of him at tailback for 2009 was impressive, and he sure wasn't going to see much time at safety.

But guys started to get hurt, and all of a sudden, Robinson was pressed into duty at tailback next to Paki O'Meara and heavily-hyped true freshman Brandon Wegher. Robinson defied expectations and plainly outperformed Wegher over the course of the year last year (though, it must be said, Wegher was essential in his own right, and he is sorely missed on the 2010 team). On paper, A-Rob's not supposed to be good. His straight-line speed isn't all that much better than, say, John Clay, and he'll never pull an open-field cut like Fred Russell or Sedrick Shaw could.

But damn it all if Robinson doesn't find a way to make it work, game in and game out, just like every Hawkeye hero before him did.

A-Rob's latest oeuvre might be the best of his career: 31 carries, 143 yards, 2 TDs, four receptions, and 61 more yards through the air. That's 35 touches and 204 yards--58% of Iowa's plays and 53% of Iowa's yardage from scrimmage on Saturday. Robinson broke tackles left and right, confounded over-aggressive pursuers, and didn't get himself killed--his ability to squirm and fall forward on tackles instead of getting killed and blown back is completely undervalued. He's the last option before putting the ball in an under-practiced true freshman's hands, yet Ferentz let him have the ball 35 times on Saturday, and Robinson's in good enough shape to do it again this Saturday too.

Iowa's got Wisconsin and Michigan State coming to town the next two weeks, and those two games will go a long way in determining the course of Iowa's season. And while quarterback is the most important position in the game, something tells me that Iowa will fare as well as A-Rob goes--and that bodes well for the Hawkeyes.

DJK FTW. It's hard to imagine a more disparate combination in coexistence than DJK and Ferentz; perhaps there's Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, but someone had to make up that combo; Derrell and Kirk is real and happening every day. Ferentz, the low-key all-star, has long waved the battle flag for measured interaction with the public and press. It's hard to blame him, of course, considering what moves news these days even as his players are engaging in good works whenever they've got the opportunity.

But then a player like DJK comes along, who has never been arrested or suspended, has never dogged it in practice or on the field, and is productive as hell, and yet he drives Ferentz crazy strictly with his mouth. Ferentz banned DJK and the rest of the team from Twitter coming into this season, and DJK's on a gag order with the press until the season's over, and perhaps that's unfair to you and me. And perhaps to DJK too. 



Yes, it would be nice to have this do the speaking, but...




His foil is, in turn, leading the Hawkeyes in receiving for the fourth straight year for the first time in Hawkeye history. Moreover, DJK just broke Tim Dwight's Iowa record for receiving yards, and Kevin Kasper's reception record should fall over the next couple of weeks. In short, DJK is poised to be Iowa's best receiver ever.

And you know what? He has absolutely earned it. We can lament the fact that Ferentz won't let him talk to reporters during the season, but if that's what's best for everybody, then so be it. It's a small price to pay to see a wideout who's so adept at moving the chains between the 20s and who, now, is adding a deadly red zone game to his repertoire. DJK is remarkably good, probably as good as we've ever had at wideout (fans can understand my reticence to ever unequivocally declare anybody "better" than Tim Dwight), and we're lucky to have him as a Hawkeye for seven more games. That's not to endorse Ferentz's tactics wholesale--we don't--but DJK's career really is something at this point.

Michigan has two good quarterbacks, and they might need to think about acknowledging that. One of the best things Tate Forcier could have done for his career was not transfer after the very first game of the season. Recall that Devin Gardner, not Forcier, saw snaps the first time Denard got hurt this season, and Forcier told the press "I'm gone." shortly thereafter. Damage control was done, Forcier stuck around, and Michigan's in very good shape for it.

The biggest aspect of Forcier's performance against Iowa last week is that it didn't start well; sure, he led them on a sustained drive into Iowa's red zone as soon as he came in, but that and the next drive ended in turnovers, and instead of turtling for the rest of the game, Forcier put in work. In fact, looking at the two quarterbacks' performances, the case can be made that if Robinson hadn't aggravated his shoulder injurt, Michigan should have put in Forcier anyway, as his performance was pretty much the sole reason MIchigan got back in the game.

But back to Robinson: doesn't his latest injury just prove how unsustainable his usage has been this season? The guy leads the nation in rushing and throws for 200 a game. He's not built for his. 99% of college players aren't, which is why his level of production is so unprecedented: coaches usually know better than to do this!

Of course, Michigan doesn't really have the option of  leaning on a tailback instead; their backfield is an unqualified mess. But Denard Robinson is not nearly as good a passer as Forcier at this point, and it's not much of a stretch to assume that, based on each QB's performance against Iowa, Forcier was a better-equipped quarterback to lead Michigan's comeback.

So why not acknowledge that Denard Robinson's pace is unsustainable for a quarterback, and use him in conjunction with Forcier? Yes, the temptation for coaches is to pick a quarterback and ride him, for consistency's sake, but it's clear that Forcier and Robinson are complementary talents under center for Michigan, and giving one QB at least a quarter of work is better than riding one until he's too dinged up to play, then throwing in the other one essentially cold.