We’re now just one day away from Iowa’s matchup with the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship and this one seems to have all the makings of a Kirk Ferentz special. Michigan is favored by double digits in Vegas and most of the national media has already crowned them with the only real thought coming on who they’re matchup in the College Football Playoff might be.
But we’ve seen Ferentz pull off some big time upsets before and this would certainly qualify. KF is 1-1 against the Wolverines when they’re ranked inside the top-5 nationally and 5-1 when Iowa is ranked at all. To get a look under the hood and help decide if this could be one of those times where Iowa hangs around and pulls out a win, we caught up with Trevor Woods of SB Nation’s Michigan site, Maize ‘n Brew.
Here’s a look at our conversation.
BHGP: First and foremost, congratulations on an incredible season and on behalf of Hawkeye fans everywhere (and I think, really, Big Ten fans more broadly), thank you for demolishing Ohio State last weekend. That’s something that has clearly been a sticking point for Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. What’s different about this year’s squad vs. past iterations (including the one a season ago that finished 2-4) that helped lead the Wolverines to not only their first win over the Buckeyes in a decade, but also their first trip to the Big Ten Championship game?
MNB: It starts with a revamped coaching staff — defensive coordinator Don Brown was fired after 2020 and Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald turned the unit around. Harbaugh named Sherrone Moore offensive lines coach, former Michigan running back Mike Hart became Michigan’s RB’s coach, the Ravens RB’s coach Matt Weiss became Michigan’s QB coach. In short, all these additions made a tremendous difference, everyone mentioned is under 40 years old. A new energy emerged. Michigan heightened their focus year-round, focusing on the Buckeyes even more, and a major catalyst of the new mindset was edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who has 13 sacks on the season. The team is communicating well, they’re playing physical.
BHGP: On the defensive side of the ball, it’s strength against weakness as the Wolverines are giving up just 17.2 points per game while the Hawkeyes have really struggled scoring all year with their 25.7 ppg average boosted by six defensive and special teams scores. What kind of scheme Mike McDonald’s bunch run and and how have teams like Nebraska and Michigan State found success against it?
MNB: Mike Macdonald likes to use a lot of substitutions, matching personnel for personnel. Nebraska and Michigan State exploited this by running hurry-up and catching Michigan off-guard a handful of times, leading to points. In the MSU game Kenneth Walker ran all over Michigan to the tune of 5 touchdowns. Against Nebraska it was the Adrian Martinez show in the second half (until a costly interception late in the game), Martinez was highly effective throwing on play-action attempts. As far as what type of defense Michigan now rolls with, I’ll leave you with this quote from Macdonald. “We’re gonna do everything, baby. We’re gonna pattern match, we’re gonna play zone, we’re gonna play man. Gonna have it all,” Macdonald said in March. “We’re going to be multiple. The best way I can describe our scheme is it’s gonna look like the places I’ve been previously. You watch out Baltimore defense — tell me the times when we look like a 3-4, there’s gonna be a certain percentage there. But there’s a lot of times where we’re going to look like a 4-3, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-1, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-2. Sometimes you’re not gonna know what the heck it looks like.
BHGP: Aiden Hutchinson has been an absolute monster this season. We learned on Tuesday that he’s the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. The Hawkeyes have really struggled with youth at the tackle position this season giving an absurd 31 sacks this season. In the handful of games where Hutchinson has managed to come away empty handed, what have teams done to slow him down?
MNB: This is a serious answer that sounds like a joke but teams slow down Hutchinson by holding or double or triple teaming him. He’s dominated in one-on-one situations. The problem with doubling Hutchinson is the other edge-rusher, David Ojabo, can really bring the pain as well. I’m not sure if Michigan will win, I am sure Petras is going to get hit a handful of times in this one.
BHGP: On the other side of the ball, Iowa has been pretty stout this season and proven highly effective in turning opponents over despite a slew of injuries in the secondary. But the Wolverines have only turned the ball over nine times all season and are averaging more than 37 points per game. How have teams like Penn State and Rutgers been able to slow down this Michigan offense and is there anything Phil Parker’s defense can take away schematically to make life difficult on the Wolverines?
MNB: The Penn State was a run-first day as it was raining and the field was sloppy, Michigan leaned heavily on Hassan Haskins and Cade McNamara made some key throws late in the game to win it. That game was just a battle in bad conditions. The struggles against Rutgers, specifically in the second half where McNamara threw for just 7 yards, can be attributed to Rutgers having a good secondary and playing back in coverage. Further, Rutgers was bottling up the run at the same time and Michigan barely held on in that one. The goal for Iowa, or any team who wants to beat Michigan, will be to slow down the rushing attack of Haskins and Blake Corum — see if McNamara can carry Michigan with his arm, a tall task against a solid Iowa secondary.
BHGP: OK, prediction time. The DraftKings Sportsbook has Michigan favored by 10.5 points with an over/under set at 43.5 total points. That’s not terribly surprising given the success Michigan has had this year, particularly with the offensive woes for the Hawkeyes noted above. But how do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?
MNB: The last time these two squad played was in 2019, a 10-3 Michigan win where Nate Stanley was sacked 8 times. When Michigan and Iowa play the game is usually low scoring, a gritty battle with both teams delivering blows on defense. I don’t think that changes, but I also think this is the best team of the Harbaugh era and Michigan will win in the trenches. Michigan 27, Iowa 10. Much respect to Iowa, their fans, and Kirk Ferentz. A program that’s easy to like.
So there you have it, another prediction of pain for the Hawkeyes. It’s all upside from here, folks!
Thanks again to Trevor for taking the time, You can follow him on the Twitters @WoodsFootball. Also be sure to take a look at Maize n Brew before the game kicks off as they’ve got loads of preview content, including a podcast interview with our own Ben Ross.
Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 7pm CT. FOX will carry the broadcast.