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By The Numbers: Iowa vs. Michigan

Is there any hope for the “Little Engine that Could”?

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

The last time Iowa played Michigan Jim Harbaugh finally got a win in Kinnick. The time before that Cade McNamara led the Wolverines to a 42-3 thumping of Iowa in Indy. It’s a new year, and Cade is now a Hawkeye, but he’s not playing and the odds are stacked in Michigan’s favor again this year.

Michigan comes into the B1G Championship Game fresh off a win over 11-1, #6 (#3 at the time) Ohio State. While it was not what you’d call a dominant performance, it was better than any win Iowa has on it’s resume, over a better team than Iowa has faced this season. Iowa comes in on the heels of a nailbiter in Lincoln against a 5-7 Nebraska squad that wouldn’t be able to get out of its own way while driving a car on rails (you all saw those fubles by Purdy, not mention that pick...)

Before last Saturday this Wolverine team hadn’t faced much adversity (if any) this season - unless you count their HC serving two separate 3 game suspensions, or the perpetual noise about that same HC bolting for the NFL as soon as he can, or the revelation of an illegal scouting regime that may have spanned their last three seasons, or that their star HB could have been in business with the guy running the illegal scouting program. That being said, the off the field noise didn’t seem to have much impact on the product they put on the field each week, and Blake Corum has run for as many TDs this year as the Iowa offense has scored in total.

Let’s just say, it doesn’t look good for the anti-hero of College Football, and I don’t think the numbers are going to help much. But, we play the hand we’re dealt, so let’s do this.

Offense
Iowa - 246.3 ypg, 18 ppg
Michigan - 394.5 ypg, 37.6 ppg

Iowa set a new record this year by being the only team (in the history of college football) to win more than 4 games while averaging less than 250 yards of offense per game. The next worse total offense in CFB, Kent State, averaged 24 more yards per game than Iowa, and the next closest B1G team (Minnesota) averaged 302.6 yards per game. The 246.3 yard average was achieved against teams who gave up a combined average of 349.55 ypg across the season. Only one team that we’ve played this year has a better defense than Michigan’s, and we all remember the Penn State game.

I’m not going to belabor the point, Michigan’s offense is the best this team has faced all year (even if it’s only by a small margin over Penn State)

Advantage - Michigan

Defense
Iowa -279.9 ypg (4.0 ypp), 12.2 ppg
Michigan - 246.8 ypg (4.4 ypp), 10.3 ppg

It’s not getting any better here. Michigan’s defense is second only to Penn State in total defense, leads the nation in scoring defense, is 4th in passing yards allowed, 3rd in rushing yards allowed, 5th in yards per play, and 1st in stop rate.

Iowa’s defense is elite for sure, and they rank in the top 10 in all of those categories aside from rushing yards allowed (17). The only statistic they currently lead the country in is rushing touchdowns allowed (3 all year). They’re 4th in scoring, 7th in total yards, 2nd in yards per play, and 3rd in stop rate, and while I’m not attempting to downplay any of those stats, they can only hold on for so long if the offense can’t stay on the field. The defense kept us in the game for a half against Penn State, and for a half against OSU last year, and a half in the B1G CCG two years ago. If the defense sees as much of the field as they did against PSU, this could get out of hand.

Advantage - Michigan

Special Teams
Iowa - 47.7 ypp, 70.3% FGM, 22.94 ypkr, 10.03 yppr
Michigan - 45 ypp, 85.7% FGM, 14.94 ypkr, 8.30 yppr

Iowa has a better punter, Michigan has a better kicker, and only one can put points on the board. Tory Taylor may be the best we’ve ever seen at keeping points off the board, but outside of setting the defense up for a safety, there’s not much he else he can do. Drew Stevens has lost confidence the last month and last week was his worst performance in an Iowa uniform. If Iowa has any shot at winning this game, Drew is going to need to come out of his funk, and Tory is going to have to pin UM inside their own 10 on nearly every kick.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s James Turner is having a very good, if not super-productive, season (when your team scores 37.6 points per game, you don’t tend to have a lot of FG opportunities). He’s also good at XPMs, having missed just one this season.

Advantage - Push (I’m giving Iowa the benefit of the doubt here)

Michigan’s last B1G loss came on Halloween of 2021 in a knockdown, dragout, fight of a game with in-state rival Michigan State. Since that game they have scored 903 points and have allowed 336 points across 25 straight wins in B1G play. If Ohio State’s #33 ranked scording offense couldn’t put up 25 points against this Wolverine team, I can’t imagine what would have to happen to for Iowa to get 10

Numbers to Watch

1 - Roman Wilson is Michigans top receiver and is the only Wolverine aside from Blake Corum with more than 4 touchdowns on the season. He’s averaging more than 16 yards per catch and is JJ McCarthy’s favorite target. The Iowa secondary is going to have their hands full with Wilson, especially since they also have to account for Colston Loveland, Cornelius Johnson, and Donovan Edwards.

2 - Blake Corum currently leads the country in scoring thanks to his 22 rushing touchdowns. He’s not a huge threat to catch the ball out of the backfield (that’s where Donovan Edwards comes in), but as he’s averaging nearly 5 yards a carry and is just 24 yards short of 1K rushing yards on the season, he’s going to be #1 on Phil Parker’s list of Wolverines to shutdown.

On the other side of the ball, Kaleb Johson is Iowa’s biggest threat to break a big run and has the speed to outrun even the best corners in CFB. He’s been limited all year due to a lingering injury but has been a difference maker since returning to full health. He’s just one part of Iowa’s 3 headed monster and has only logged 10 carries a week in the last 3 games, but he’s a threat to bust a long run every time he steps on the field.

3 - Kaleb Brown didn’t play in the second half against Nebraska and Iowa’s offensive production fell off a cliff. Without their only true outside threat they mustered just 57 yards of offense, 22 of which came on LeShon Williams huge run to setup the game winning field goal. When Brown is on the field this is a different team, and the defense has to at least consider the possibility that Iowa will throw the ball. When he’s on the sideline I expect Michigan to have at least 8 in the box (especially if it coincides with Kaleb Johnson lining up 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage). If Deacon Hill can get the ball to KB3 in space early and often, we might just have a shot.

4 - I don’t think anyone expected it when the season started, but one thing has become very apparent in the second half of this season. As LeShon Williams goes, so go the Iowa Hawkeyes. In Iowa’s 10 wins LW4 has averaged 75+ ypg on 5.49 ypc, in their 2 losses he’s averaged just 11 yards on 1.29 ypc. If Michigan stacks the box (which they will) and keeps LeShon contained, the Iowa defense could be in for a long day.

0 - Mike Sainristil may, honestly, be the best player on the field on Saturday. He doesn’t score points like Blake Corum or Roman Wilson. He doesn’t use his escapability and speed to extend plays like JJ McCarthy. He’s not Michigan’s leading tackler, and he’s not going to fly around the field like Sebastian Castro, Nick Jackson, or Jay Higgins. What he does lead the Wolverines in is intercetptions, and there may not be a better defensive back playing in the B1G right now (because Coop isn’t playing right now). He’s going to have his eyes locked on Deacon all day, just waiting to notch his 3rd pick six of the season.

ESPN currently gives Iowa a 7.4% chance to win this game, and the sharps in Vegas are expecting a blowout win for the Wolverines with the line at -22 against a 34.5 O/U as I right thing. The only way Iowa wins this game is by making it extra ugly, and I mean UGLY. There are a lot of players that remember the way they felt after the 2021 B1G Championship game, and I’m sure a lot of them would love nothing more than to end Michigan’s title hopes (even if it leads to the B1G missing out on the Playoff). Nobody thinks Iowa can win (myself included), but if there’s ever been an Iowa team that can find a way to win a game no one thinks they should, it’s probably this one.

As always, GO HAWKS!!!