Tales from the Deuce

Game Preview: Iowa

Who: (15) Iowa (4-1, 1-1) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1) ; ABC or ESPN

When: Saturday, October17, 2010, 3:30 ET

Line: Iowa by 3.5

Forecast: 63 degrees, sunny

The Skinny: The Iowa Hawkeyes return to Ann Arbor for the first time since 2006.  Though they’ve only won once there in the last 15 years, circumstances set up quite well for another victory for Iowa.  For starters, the Hawkeyes are well coached.  They are led by head coach Kirk Ferentz who continues to prove every year why he is among the game’s best, as he probably gets more out of less than any other coach in the nation.  They have an experienced quarterback in Ricky Stanzi, and one of the country’s best defensive players in defensive end Adrian Clayborn.  If that wasn’t enough, they currently stand atop the country’s best in scoring defense.  Taking all of that into account, do the Wolverines have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning?  I think they do and there are a few reasons why.

First, the Hawkeyes’ defensive statistics are extremely inflated.  To illustrate, check out the offensive rankings of Iowa’s 5 opponents (rankings in parentheses):

Penn State (88)
Ball State (104)
Arizona (26th, but they lost!)
Iowa State (93)
Eastern Illinois (81, in Div I-AA no less and 0-6)

None of the above teams would be considered an offensive juggernaut.  Second, the Wolverines have the benefit of home-field advantage.  Third, this is a revenge game for the Wolverines as they lost to the Hawkeyes last year at Kinnick Stadium in a close one.  Finally, the Wolverines are at a crossroads in the season.  They can either show some resolve and show up to play on Saturday, or embark on another losing streak like the one they went on last year.  I think they’ll opt for the former.  Prediction: Michigan 35 Iowa 34

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Iowa 30 – Michigan 28

Michigan Iowa Football

Michigan’s loss on Saturday to the Iowa Hawkeyes was no doubt frustrating.  Despite strong performances by several players, the Wolverines played clumsily, surrendering the ball 5 times to their opponent.  Despite numerous turnovers, the Wolverines still had an opportunity to win the game late.  Here’s a few takeaways:

The Good: Michigan’s physical play on both sides of the football. Offensively, the Wolverines established the line of scrimmage early by engineering a 72-yard drive, led by Brandon Minor.  Overall, the Wolverines averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry.   Defensively, the Hawkeyes were limited to 2.4 yards rushing.  Along the defensive line, the Wolverines got strong play, most notably defensive end Brandon Graham who registered 2 sacks, 9 tackles, with 3.5 for a loss.

Along the same lines, I loved the aggressive game plan defensively.  Often times, there were 8-9 men in the box and they brought constant pressure from all over the field.

Donovan Warren got off to a great start with an interception for a touchdown.  Despite Iowa bizarrely targeting him throughout the game, he had a strong game.

The Bad: Michigan’s continued an awful trend of playing poor defense on third down. The most glaring example came on a 47 yard completion on 3rd and 24 .  In another situation, Hawkeyes tight end Tony Moeaki broke open in a 3rd and 12 situation for a 35 yard touchdown.

The Ugly: Perhaps the most obvious would be the turnovers. It would be easy to say that these mistakes were a result of youth.  Yet two fumbles came at the hands of two of Michigan’s senior players: receiver Greg Matthews and tailback Brandon Minor.  The latter could not have come at a worse time, as the Wolverines were in the midst of a 51 yard drive.  Had they scored, they would have likely gone into the half with a one point lead.

Rodriguez’ decision to keep Tate Forcier out of the game on the last possession. Although many have argued that Rodriguez’ decision to remain with the hot hand was sensible, it was clearly misguided.

On the previous drive I commended Rodriguez for mixing things up by bringing in freshman quarterback Denard Robinson.  Rodriguez obviously felt that the offense needed a jolt and the freshman quarterback provided that.  Robinson showed great poise in making critical throws and he further demonstrated why its so difficult to keep him on the bench.   Nevertheless, bringing him back out there on the subsequent drive was a poor decision by Rodriguez and the facts bear that out.

First, the previous drive led by Robinson took 4.5 minutes.  The Wolverines would not have that luxury on the subsequent drive.  The reason why the drive took so long is because Robinson utilized both running and passing to make his way downfield.  In fact, 42 of the 60 yards gained on that drive came from Robinson scrambling.  Secondly, a significant factor in Robinson’s effectiveness on the previous drive was the very fact that he may run.  In the final drive, it was clear that he would not have that luxury.  The Wolverine got the ball back on their own 17 yard line with 1:21 left in the game and no timeouts.  All the Hawkeyes would have to do is drop back in a zone with no fear of the run, in hopes that Robinson would make a mistake with his arm.  Sadly, that is precisely what Robinson proceeded to do.  It would have been more sensible to bring Forcier back in to the game for obvious reasons.  For starters he’s already demonstrated an ability to engineer game winning drives.  Further and most obvious, he is a better decision maker and thrower of the football.  Despite these obvious facts, Rodriguez chose to use his gut and not his head when he sent Robinson back out.

Ultimately, this has no bearing on what I think of Rodriguez.  Simply put, I think he’s one of the best coaches in college football.  I am also not suggesting that the decision to sit Forcier on the last drive cost the Wolverines a victory.  Rather, I’m simply trying to illustrate how in this particular situation, a different decision may have lead to different results.