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2022 opponent preview: Michigan Wolverines

Can the Hawkeyes avenge their Big Ten Championship loss?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the two weeks from hell, where I had COVID are over. So it’s catchup week for the team & position previews. First up is the team Iowa lost to in the Big Ten Championship Game: the Michigan Wolverines.

5 Ws

Who: Michigan Wolverines (Ann Arbor, MI; Big Ten Conference)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (61-24 at Michigan; 119-51 collegiate record)

What: Iowa’s first conference home game of the season

When: October 1st, 2022; TBA*

Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

Why: Pain.

4 Stats

2164 days: This time between games in which Iowa yielded 42+ points to an opponent. The game prior to the Big Ten Championship was the 2016 Christian McCaffery Rose Bowl. Iowa has yielded 42+ points just nine times since 2000. They’ve lost every one.

1 sack: Even though it felt like Aidan Hutchinson lived in Iowa’s backfield seven months ago, he had the only sack for the Wolverines during that game. The Wolverines did have four tackles from loss but only Jaylen Harrell returns among the guys who had one.

6.6 yards per carry: Blake Corum, Michigan’s backup RB from last year, tallied 952 yards on 144 carries which calculated into the third highest among Big Ten running backs. His 11 TDs (9 behind the since departed Hassan Haskins) ranked sixth in the conference.

106 tackles: Though Michigan loses a lot on defense - Bill Connelly estimated it at 43% for 124th in the country - they return their leading tackler in Josh Ross. The graduate linebacker just about laps the next highest returning tackler, fellow LB Junior Colson.

3 Guys

Blake Corum (#2, RB, Jr, 5’8”, 200 lbs): Pain.

Corum’s run against the Hawkeyes was his longest of the season, coming after Iowa’s ill-fated first drive. It sent Iowa holding onto dear life before some trickeration put the Hawkeyes’ title hopes on life support before it felt like the team got off the bus.

Anyways, Corum’s successful 2021 extends well beyond the long run featured above. His 6.6 yards/carry are significant, though some of that is likely aided by being the fresher of the two backs featured in last year’s offense. He’ll take up the #1 role, and look to build on his 1093 yards from scrimmage last season.

Old friend alert: he was coached by Biff Poggi as a prep. He was a top 150 recruit & Gatorade Player of the Year out of Maryland in 2019.

Cade McNamara (#12, QB, Sr, 6’1”, 212 lbs): He was the #1 QB for all of last season but split time with freshman JJ McCarthy. In some ways, though, his stat line is just about the perfect complement to Jim Harbaugh’s preferred ground and pound style. 64% completion, 7.9 yards/attempt for over 2500 yards. 15:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Considering Michigan returns some weapons in the passing game - TE Erick All, for one - so I expect his touchdowns to jump up as the Wolverine offense will need to diversify.

Jake Moody (#13, K, Grad, 6’1”, 211 lbs): A consensus All-America & Lou Groza Award winner, Moody posted the most ever points by a Michigan kicker last year. He made 23 of 25 kicks, and haters will say he was just 4/6 from 40+ yards. In a game which Iowa will try to keep low scoring, Moody’s range will hopefully be tested.

2 Cases

Best case: The Hawkeyes capitalize on an early trick play, rectifying last year’s attempted RB-to-FB pass. They force a quick three-and-out and get a two-possession lead, turning Michigan’s offense one-dimensional. The game turns into a tight one in the fourth quarter but Iowa does just enough to get the win which resembles last year’s top 5 home victory over Penn State.

Worst case: Repeat of the 2021 Big Ten Championship Game.

1 Question

Was the gap actually that big last year and can Iowa close it? So two questions in one but let’s parse the first. Ahead of the championship game last year, Connelly had a gap of about 11 points, which is where the Vegas line settled, more or less. So it is asinine to think Michigan is actually 39 points better than that iteration of the Hawkeyes, no matter how pessimistic I want to be about that group.

So let’s return to the idea that the gap is probably closer to 11. That’s likely to be in single digits with Iowa having the homefield advantage and all that entails. And I just can’t help but shake that last season actually was a worst case scenario for any Iowa football game. Iowa lost that one on the margins every chance they tried. Hell, even if Caleb Shudak makes the post-failed trick play kick, Iowa enters halftime with only an eight-point deficit. Then the wheels came off when Kirk Ferentz kept trying to make an injured Spencer Petras “fetch” happen in the second half.

So yes, Iowa can close the gap. I expect, at minimum, a gameplan which resembles the 2016 iteration of these two teams which had Josey Jewell telling the offense “just give us 14” (in classic Iowa fashion, the Hawkeye offense actually only gave the defense 12).

But they’ll need guys on offense to make plays. There weren’t many of those to be had against the Wolverines last season. If they don’t Jim Harbaugh will be leaving Iowa City with a win for the first time in his career, playing or coaching.