This football season, as in years past, we’ll be going behind enemy lines each week to ask some of the tough questions, the really hard-hitting ones. Sometimes, we may even go over the line.
We’d also like to know what you’re interested in learning about each opponent. So hit us on social media with some questions you’d like us to ask each upcoming opponent. Slide in the DMs, @ us or use the hashtag #overthelinebhgp and we’ll ask our weekly guests your questions.
It’s been quite some time since Iowa went into a matchup against the Michigan Wolverines as the higher ranked team, but that’s the case this week as the #14 Hawkeyes head to Ann Arbor to take on the #19 Wolverines.
Despite being the higher ranked team, this game is on the road and Michigan is the household name. As such, the line opened at Michigan -6.5. Thats come down to -3.5 as the game approaches and whatever the line ends up being, this is sure to be a great matchup between two very good teams.
To help us get a better understanding of what to expect from the Wolverines on Saturday, we went behind enemy lines with Trevor Wood of SB Nation’s Michigan site Maize N Brew.
Here’s what he had to say.
BHGP: Iowa and Michigan haven’t faced off since 2016. While Iowa has notoriously stayed essentially the same for the entirety of the Kirk Ferentz era, Michigan has undergone some changes since that last matchup. What’s different about this Wolverine team?
MNB: The difference is on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan has a new offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis, who was Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator last season. Gattis is a fired up 36 year old with a scheme different than what Iowa saw in 2016. Gattis runs an up-tempo pro-spread scheme that has promised to be aggressive and take shots down the field.
BHGP: Settle the debate, where was Oliver Martin truly at on the WR depth chart before his transfer and is there any advantage for Iowa in having him in Iowa City after having a chance to review the new playbook?
MNB: It’s likely Martin was getting passed on the depth chart and he decided he’d have a better chance at more reps and more targets somewhere else. Jim Harbaugh has wished Martin well, as has multiple Michigan players when asked about him. Martin was a well liked teammate, but sometimes there’s a log jam at a position and the best thing to do is to transfer. I don’t think there’s much of an advantage of Martin being around at the beginning of Gattis’ tenure at Michigan. The offense wasn’t even completely installed and it’s fair to say Martin didn’t have a firm enough grasp of the schematics to head to Iowa and be able to explain the tenants of it at a high clip. I think Iowa’s coaches understand the scheme more than Martin, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that Martin was around the new playbook for a little while.
BHGP: Michigan looked like two totally different teams against Wisconsin and Rutgers. Iowa is neither of those teams. Which game is the better indicator of what Hawkeye fans should expect come Saturday?
MNB: It’s hard telling and the truth may lie somewhere in between how the team performed against Wisconsin and Rutgers. There isn’t a big enough sample size to say Michigan will start firing on all cylinders or if they’re kind of stuck in the mud. However, Harbaugh and company took the Wisconsin loss hard and the team came out motivated and played very well against Rutgers, so we’ll see if that becomes a trend this week.
BHGP: The Hawkeyes have been dealing with a number of injuries the last few weeks. They’ll get Alaric Jackson back in the OL and Kaevon Merriweather back in the secondary this week. Are there any injuries of note for Michigan?
MNB: Tight end Sean McKeon will be out, linebacker Josh Ross and backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey are both doubtful.
BHGP: Michigan does a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. There’s a level of talent on the roster Iowa fans can only dream of having. Who’s the one guy on offense Hawkeyes fans should know about?
MNB: Donovan Peoples-Jones. The receiver has been working his way back from an injury but he’s likely close to 100 percent at this point. DPJ is a major asset in the return game and passing game alike. He’s elusive, has top-tier speed, and possesses good route running and reliable hands.
BHGP: How about on the defensive side of the ball?
MNB: Michigan lost a few star players to the NFL Draft, but they still have talent on that side of the ball. It’s hard to single out one player, but players who have performed at a high clip this season include defensive end Kwity Paye, linebacker Cam McGrone, and safety Brad Hawkins. The true star of Michigan’s defense may emerge shortly, but right now it is TBD as to who their best player is.
BHGP: Speaking of defense, Iowa has struggled against teams that show a 3-man front (Wisconsin for years and Iowa State of late). Should we expect to see much of that Saturday?
MNB: No matter what front the defense uses, Michigan’s will be different than Wisconsin and Iowa State’s for the fact they blitz a whole lot more than those teams. The Cyclones and Badgers lay back a little more than Michigan’s, and it’ll be interesting to see if Stanley can handle the pressure, and if the Iowa o-line can pick up the blitzes effectively.
BHGP: What matchup do you feel best about from a Michigan perspective?
MNB: Just from viewing film it appears Iowa’s weakness may be their secondary and I expect the Michigan passing game to take some shots downfield and test Iowa.
BHGP: Which has you most worried?
MNB: AJ Epenesa is an absolute animal. The guy only has 1 sack on the year and he’s probably not too happy about that, as he’s a much better player than his current stat sheet indicates. Epenesa is a handful and Michigan will have trouble shutting him down.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. I’ve seen lines anywhere from Michigan -3.5 to -6.5. Who gets the W and do the Wolverines cover?
MNB: I think Michigan wins and they do cover. The homefield advantage may prove to be the difference in this one.
Big thank you to Trevor and Maize N Brew. You can follow Trevor on the twitters @WoodsFootball and the Maize N Brew gang @Maizenbrew. They’re doing great work over there. I’d encourage you to go take a peak at their in depth look at Iowa, as well as their preview podcast discussing the matchup with the Hawkeyes.