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The Butcher’s Word: Michigan

Just how good is this Michigan Wolverines squad? We asked for all the details from Maize n Brew.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes are poised to face their biggest challenge of the 2023 season on Saturday as they travel to Indianapolis to face off with the #2 Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship Game. While Iowa and Michigan have a history that dates back to 1900 and have faced each other in this game just two years ago, there have certainly been some things going on at both schools since the last meeting and a refresh on where things stand in Ann Arbor is warranted.

In the words of the wise and sage-like Big Tom Callahan, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s rear end, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?

So rather than sticking our head up anyone’s rear end, we’re asking our friends over at Maize n Brew for their words on the Michigan Wolverines. We were joined by Nick Durand over at MNB to talk all things Michigan this week. Here’s a look at our conversation.

BHGP: Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The Wolverines have been without head coach Jim Harbaugh the last three weeks. He’s poised to make his return this week. What exactly has been different for Michigan with Sherrone Moore at the helm and how do you expect the team to respond this week as Harbaugh returns?

MNB: I think the most noticeable thing in Michigan’s first two games without Harbaugh (Penn State and Maryland) was how conservative the offense seemed to be. It could be a product of J.J. McCarthy being a little hobbled or simply saving some stuff for Ohio State, but in Moore’s first two games the offense seemed to rely more heavily on the run. However, against Ohio State they opened things up and added some wrinkles like Donovan Edwards throwing a pass and they got back to rolling J.J. McCarthy out to make some throws on the run. I think the team will respond well to having coach Harbaugh back on the sidelines and we’ll see a similar offensive approach to what we’ve seen for most of the season.

BHGP: On the offensive side of the ball, the Wolverines have scored at least 30 points in every game this season. A big part of that has been the tremendous year JJ McCarthy has had, throwing for nearly 2,500 yards on 9.7 yards per attempt while being able to keep plays alive with his legs. Schematically, how has Michigan found success in the passing game and how are they able to get guys like Roman Wilson open with such consistency?

MNB: I think that Michigan has found its success by simply allowing McCarthy to play his game and not hold him back. Michigan’s biggest plays in the passing game have come in play action and when they allow McCarthy to roll out and improvise. It gives defenses another thing to think about and it allows his receivers to get creative as well and find space.

Like you mentioned, Roman Wilson has been an important piece here. He’s such a big weapon in the pass game and him taking a step forward this year after Ronnie Bell left for the NFL has been huge. His speed is his biggest tool and it allows him to get separation from defenders and make plays after the catch. He’s been slowed down a little bit in the second half of the year but he’s still a threat for defenses to think about. Colston Loveland’s emergence in the second half of the year is an exciting development for this offense as well.

BHGP: Sticking with offense, I likely buried the lede by starting on the passing game. Running back Blake Corum is having yet another monster year, rushing for just under 1,000 yards on the season with a ridiculous 22 rushing TDs (more than the Iowa offense has scored as a whole on the season). From a scheme standpoint, how has Corum and Michigan been so successful in the ground game this year and how do you expect Moore to mix run and pass to attack what has been a very good Iowa defense so far this season?

MNB: Running has definitely been the identity of this Michigan team over the past few years, and Blake Corum is a big reason why. I would assume he goes over the 1,000 yard mark (currently at 976) in this game, but you never know. Duo has been one of Michigan’s biggest run plays this year and was utilized on Corum’s 22-yard touchdown run last week, but Michigan does a good job of mixing in inside zone plays and pin and pulls as well.

In terms of this week, I’d expect Michigan to go back to somewhat leaning on the run. This’ll be a game where Michigan isn’t going to go for style points and as much as I hate to say it, throwing the ball and risking turnovers might be the best chance for Iowa has to get on the scoreboard in this game.

BHGP: On the other side of the ball, just sticking 11 players out there is likely enough to stop the Iowa offense from putting points on the board, but Michigan boasts the top defense in the nation. Sitting at 4th nationally in pass defense and 6th in rush defense, there don’t appear to be any real weaknesses. Having said that, the last four games for the Wolverines have been the four highest point totals allowed, culminating with both Maryland and Ohio State hitting 24 points. Nobody is going to confuse the Hawkeye offense with either of those two, but how did the Terps and Buckeyes find success attacking the Michigan defense and is there anything at all the Hawkeyes can glean from those matchups?

MNB: I noticed it more with Maryland than I did with Ohio State, but aggression seemed to be the real key. Maryland relied on quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to generate big plays and put stress on the Michigan defense. Ohio State was able to find some success on the ground, most notably in the third quarter where the Buckeyes relied largely on the run during a 12-play 75-yard touchdown drive. The fact that Ohio State has the best receiver in the country in Marvin Harrison Jr. certainly helped too.

Aggression will be key for Iowa to find some success in this game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it from the Hawkeye offense since there really won’t be much to lose.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook opened this one at Michigan -21.5. As if the highest spread of championship weekend wasn’t enough, that’s quickly moved to -23.5 with the over/under at 35.5 total points. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?

MNB: I think Michigan is going to win the game, simply because I think Iowa won’t be able to consistently move the ball. The Michigan defense against the Iowa offense is simply too much of a mismatch. Of course, big special teams plays and potential turnovers generated by the defense can still be ways to get on the board, but those are too unpredictable. I think Michigan isn’t gonna light it up on the offensive end (by its own standards), but will score enough to make it a comfortable victory. Give me Michigan 27-3, a slight cover but the under still hits.

How many Hawkeye fans would sign up now for a 27-3 game? What if it was, say 13-3 at the half and only 20-3 after 3? Yeah, me too. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.

Thanks again to Nick Durand of Maize n Brew. Be sure to stop over before kick off, especially if you’re making the trek to Indy. They’ve got some good content, notably a pair of podcasts talking Iowa and the matchup this weekend that are worth the listen.