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The Morning After: Outgunned, Outmanned

Michigan leverages pure talent and Iowa’s mistakes to get Jim Harbaugh his first win inside Kinnick Stadium.

Syndication: HawkCentral Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

We heard it all week long: Kinnick Stadium was where top 5 teams went to die. The Big Noon Kickoff crew couldn’t go ten minutes without reminding Urban Meyer of the last time he faced Iowa, and lost 55-24 in case you’d forgotten. Kinnick and the Iowa Hawkeyes have a hard won and well earned reputation for toppling college football’s giants over the years.

But none of that mattered yesterday because none of those previous teams were taking the field against the undefeated #4 Michigan Wolverines. The recipe Iowa so often uses in these type of games — limiting mistakes, playing smart, taking advantage of opportunities and opponents’ miscues — must not have been passed down to this year’s team, as the Hawks did none of those things. The classic David vs. Goliath story we all wanted failed to materialize as the Wolverines cruised to a 27-14 victory.

There is an old saying that goes something like “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Such a philosophy has been at the core of Iowa’s identity and how it has bested top 5 teams before. But what happens when talent works hard too? Yesterday is what happens.

Iowa’s worst defensive showing at the worst time

Michigan’s first offensive drive of the game was a harbinger of what was to come. It took the Wolverines 11 plays and just over five minutes to march 75 yards for the touchdown, but in real time it looked just a little too easy. Their running backs had comfortable running lanes and when there wasn’t much room they used physicality to get positive gains. Michigan didn’t face a third down until four minutes had run off the clock.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The ease with which they moved down the field was concerning, as we’ve been conditioned to expect dominating defensive performances out of Phil Parker’s unit. But Michigan is not Nevada. Michigan ran the perfect game plan to capitalize on their sheer talent and skill, and as good as Iowa’s defense is they just could not counter it. Michigan scored on all but one first half drive, and never had one shorter than eight plays in the first two quarters.

It didn’t help that the turnovers that have kept Iowa alive (in these big games especially) never materialized. With a sputtering offense those turnovers are crucial. When they don’t happen, it can be a death sentence.

Iowa’s offensive broken record

Speaking of the offense, you’ll never believe this but it wasn’t great.

Looking at the box score, this didn’t look like too bad a day for Spencer, who completed 21 of 31 attempts for 246 yards and a touchdown. Iowa actually had more yards per pass than Michigan. This wasn’t his worst game, far from it, but we again saw the familiar gripes fans have had about his play. Despite occasionally decent protection he still wasn’t accurate with some throws, sending them well above their intended targets.

I remember one instance where locking in on his safety blanket, Sam LaPorta, caused him to not notice a more open Nico Ragaini over the middle. Sam was double covered and had little room on the sideline to make the catch. Completing passes will look good in the box score, but completing the right passes will help your team win.

It also doesn’t help that seemingly every big play Iowa had was negated by a penalty. On that note...

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about refs, baby

Let’s be clear, the officiating did not cost Iowa this game. Michigan was in control of this one from beginning to end. But it was damn frustrating to see Iowa’s momentum stalled by some questionable calls. A first down was negated by a “clipping” penalty that Joel Klatt even criticized on the Fox broadcast. Even more egregious, a 16 yard pass to Ragaini was wiped out by the absolute worst personal foul call I’ve ever seen.

What should have been 1st and Goal at the 2 ended up being 2nd and 25 at the 33 because Jones had the audacity to finish a block. Iowa fans have a legitimate gripe with some of the calls in this game, especially after seeing Iowa defenders held at the line of scrimmage with nary a flag in sight.

Officials are human and will make mistakes. They can see things that aren’t there and miss things that are. But the officials don’t put up 27 points on Iowa’s defense. The officials didn’t call a questionable 1 yard pass on 4th and 2. College officials know more about the game than I do, and see more of what is going on during a play than anyone else. Even if those flags are removed from the equation I just don’t see how Iowa pulls this one out. Michigan is just damn good.

Author’s personal note: Seriously, there is a severe shortage of officials in all 50 states and in all sports. The futures of many youth sports depend on finding people willing to put on the stripes. I highly encourage anyone even remotely interested to sign up with your state’s athletic association to become an official.

What does it all mean, GingerHawk?

It means Michigan is #4 in the country for a reason, and it means Iowa still has a lot to work on. Next Saturday Iowa travels to Illinois to face a team who just beat the pants off of the media’s default Big Ten West champion pick Wisconsin. This Iowa team can’t take anyone lightly. This can’t rely on the mystique of Kinnick or inherited reputation from years past.

The talent on this team needs to put in the hard work.