Michigan's Key to Victory over Iowa Is in the Trenches

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IINovember 21, 2013

The defensive line holds the key to a Michigan victory on Saturday.
The defensive line holds the key to a Michigan victory on Saturday.Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

A victory for the Michigan Wolverines this weekend would give them a much-needed shot of adrenaline heading into a clash with undefeated Ohio State. To do so, the Maize and Blue will have to beat Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. It has been eight years since their last win in Iowa City.

For Michigan to end its skid against the Hawkeyes, it will have to do one thing above all else: Stop Mark Weisman and Iowa's rushing attack.

This figures to be a low-scoring affair. Michigan's offense needed every second of regulation to score nine points against Northwestern, which has the No. 75-ranked defense in the country. A pair of touchdown drives in overtime were impressive, but the first 60 minutes were more indicative of how sluggish the Wolverines are offensively.

Scoring on Iowa is going to be even more difficult for their struggling offense. The Hawkeyes rank No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (18.7 points per game) and No. 9 in total defense (319.2 yards per game).

Iowa is not a serious threat to pile up points, though. Only Western Michigan and Purdue, two teams with a combined record of 2-19, gave up more than 28 points against the Hawkeyes.

Basically, whichever team's defense wins the field position battle with consistency will walk away victorious on Saturday.

Michigan's linebackers are coming off arguably their best performance of the 2013 season.
Michigan's linebackers are coming off arguably their best performance of the 2013 season.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Michigan's front seven, especially along the defensive line, is the key to victory. Younger players like Willie Henry and Chris Wormley, along with veteran defensive tackle Quinton Washington, have to be disruptive in along the line of scrimmage. Frank Clark simply needs to keep playing at a high level.

Behind them, linebackers James Ross III, Desmond Morgan, Cameron Gordon and Jake Ryan are coming off arguably their best performances of the 2013 campaign. The group racked up 27 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against Northwestern. Pretty solid numbers against a run-first team.

Stopping Weisman and junior tailback Damon Bullock, an impressive thunder and lightning combination, is much easier said than done.

The former is a load to bring down at 6'1", 236 pounds. Weisman is essentially a fullback playing running back. He is not going to run away from anyone, but one tackler is rarely enough to bring him down. Conversely, Bullock is a much more versatile back. He is speedy and has good hands out of the backfield. The two have racked up 1,232 rushing yards on the year. Bullock has 151 receiving yards as well.

Bringing down Mark Weisman is easier said than done.
Bringing down Mark Weisman is easier said than done.Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Rounding out the three-headed monster at running back is sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who has ground out 338 yards on just 49 carries.

Sound tackling and disruptiveness up front are the only ways to slow down these grinders.

The good news? Passing is not exactly a strength for the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Jake Rudock has proven to be efficient at times, but he's also prone to turnovers, as evidenced by his 14-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Overall, Iowa ranks 88th in passing offense (204 yards per game).

Making the Hawkeyes one-dimensional and forcing them to win the game through the air is the only way for a desperate Michigan team to come away with a road win.

On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines have no shot to steal a victory if they cannot avoid negative rushing plays and sacks.

Iowa has a trio of veteran linebackers that loves to blitz. Head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker have picked their spots very carefully up to this point. However, expect the two to turn up the heat early and often on a Michigan offensive line that has struggled to pick up blitzes.

The Wolverines have surrendered 19 sacks in three weeks. This undoubtedly has Ferentz and Parker salivating.

Expect a heavy dose of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith in the backfield since those two were able to plow forward for extra yardage against Northwestern.

Unless Michigan finds a way to slow down Weisman and Co., its offense will not be able to keep up with the Hawkeyes. Fans of explosive offenses may want to find another channel this weekend.


Prediction: Michigan by 3


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