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Matchup to watch: Michigan’s run defense vs. Tyler Goodson

Can the Hawkeye running back have the type of game he needs for Iowa to go to Pasadena?

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

No recap since I missed last week. No summary of matchups since I largely used it to keep track to limit duplication.

It’s Big Ten Championship Week so let’s dive right in.

Michigan/Iowa harkens the two most recent iterations of the game: low scoring affairs where defense takes precedence and an ability to maneuver around the opponent’s immoveable object takes priority. The winner won by scoring 14 & 10 points. Not exactly something one would hang in the Louvre of Modern Football.

Perhaps it is hubris in Phil Parker’s ability and the defense to execute Parker’s plan but the stats show Iowa was able to contain pretty good Michigan offenses. The 2016 iteration averaged 40.6 points/game and scored just 13 against Iowa. The 2019 group had 31.7 and mustered just 10 at home versus the Hawks. Defense might well be the problem but Jim Harbaugh has shown very willing to get down in the mud with Iowa from a game plan standpoint.

So the finger points right at the Hawkeyes’ ability to generate any offensive output against another stout Michigan front. Again, history here shows that Iowa is not likely to get much (just 230 & 261 yards in those two games) but how they get them will be of import because the broad strokes of the prior matchups were very similar: fall down by 10 and slightly close the gap.

In Iowa’s two first half possessions after falling down 10-2 in 2016, they ran just 3 times out of 10 plays but of the 7 passes, 4 targeted Akrum Wadley. Similar situation in 2019, down 10-3, Iowa ran just 3 times in 15 plays with none of the 12 passes targeting Iowa running backs. Where Iowa leveraged quick hitters against a stout defense in the first game, they leaned on longer developing routes which had its pros - two passes > 15 yards + a defensive pass interference penalty - alongside cons - two sacks.

Further, Iowa never went away from the run game five years ago with 37 rushes by Iowa running backs but did two years ago with just 21 RB runs and 50 called pass plays. Nate Stanley was sacked eight times (65 yards!), including once by Aidan Hutchinson.

This is a long setup, to be sure, but it is because Urban Meyer’s indictment of the playcalling is burned into my brain:

“Keep the defense off schedule.”

So that’s where Tyler Goodson comes into play. He absolutely has to have his best game of the season for Iowa to win AND Brian Ferentz has to use him in creative ways to get him in space. This was done, in some respect, two years ago. Goodson had 5 receptions for 56 yards and 6 rushes for 15.

He was used all over the field and used in a couple scenarios which gave him a running start (“Texas” route & short crosser) to get some yards after the catch. The former was used for Goodson’s biggest play of the season.

When he plays in space, he can be as dangerous as anyone in the conference.

While the focus, so far, has been mainly leveraging Goodson in the passing game, it is done with the mindset that these generally quick hitters to Goodson force Michigan’s front to be cognizant of both the run and the pass to create risk profiles for plays Brian may call.

If Iowa runs out the simplified gameplans we saw before Spencer Petras went down - heavy on run under center, heavier on pass out of shotgun - it creates no risk in how the Wolverines are forced to defend Iowa. This is primarily because the decision to return the less mobile Petras into the starting role does not instill much fear instilled into a defense for “being wrong.” They simply bring the house in many scenarios, knowing they can overwhelm Iowa’s offensive line in either a run or pass and put Iowa behind the chains.

The main guys are edge rushers Hutchinson & David Ojabo, who have combined for 24 sacks which puts both in the top 10 of the country. While it seems impossible for a team’s leading tackler to be overlooked, these two do, as Josh Ross has accumulated 86 tackles and adds 8.5 tackles for loss.

And while Michigan can play with their hair on fire in passing situations, they struggle - relatively - in terms of running situations. Opponents are averaging a sack adjusted 4.4 yards per carry, per Chad Leistikow. They have just 66 tackles for loss (5.5/game), which ranks 70th in the country.

While this still remains a weakness for Iowa (they allow 7.5 TFL/game), they can leverage a varied approach with their best back to keep Michigan guessing & give the Hawkeyes their first Big Ten championship since 2004.