Look what Christian Kirksey found! Iowa's defense will rule the day against Michigan.
The Iowa Hawkeyes face the Michigan Wolverines at noon ET on Saturday, and it will be a matchup nightmare for the maize and blue. Michigan has stumbled lately, and if it hadn't barely survived last week's sloppy triple-overtime game against Northwestern, it would be the owners of a three-game losing streak. Now the Wolverines face one of the best defensive units in the nation.
Iowa's defense has allowed 18.7 points and 319.2 yards per game, ranking it ninth overall. This is largely on the back of its stingy pass defense, which gives up just 189 passing yards on average thanks to a stellar secondary. And since Michigan's best playmakers are its wide receivers, and its best rushers don't rack up many yards, the Wolverines offense will be bottled up all day long.
The Hawkeyes play what used to be called football and is now called "old-school football," meaning they run the ball, control the clock and play tough defense. But they find themselves 6-4 because they lack the electric playmakers to get into the end zone with regularity. That speaks to why the over-under for this game is only 45 points and still likely will not be reached (per Bovada).
Iowa has actually outgained Michigan by over 14 yards per game, but the Wolverines score almost eight more points on average because of their red-zone efficiency. That efficiency will plummet this weekend. Unfortunately for Michigan, this is a matchup of strength versus strength, and the Wolverines' wideouts will face one of the best secondaries in the country.
The most explosive component of Michigan's offense is the receiving tandem of Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Each player is averaging 16.3 yards per catch, and Gallon has been a machine this season, corralling 65 catches for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns. He will be hounded all day long.
The Wolverines have two talented runners in Fitzgerald Toussaint and quarterback Devin Gardner, but neither of them has found much room to work. They are averaging just 3.5 and 3.2 yards per carry respectively. De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green were the leading rushers in Michigan's last game, and they average 3.5 and 3.3 yards per carry respectively.
Worse still, as the Wolverines are forced to try to run the ball past Iowa, there will be plenty of punts. Hawkeyes speedster Kevonte Martin-Manley has returned two punts for scores this season, and he flips the field with regularity. He's averaging a robust 18.8 yards per return, which is a potent combination with a stout defense.
Can the Wolverines score enough to win against Iowa's tough defense?
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock has not been very efficient this season with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 191.6 passing yards per game. He will have to eliminate mistakes in this defensive clash, but running backs Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri can shoulder the offensive burden for the Hawkeyes. Canzeri is coming off a breakout 165-yard showing in last week's win over Purdue and has averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Last season, Gardner torched Iowa for three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns for a lopsided victory in Ann Arbor. This year's matchup takes place in Iowa City, where the wind chill will be at possible-frostbite-on-the-nose levels, and it comes against a significantly improved Hawkeyes defense.
Iowa will ground Gardner's passing game while their proficient linebackers, led by Anthony Kitchens and James Morris, will bottle up the run. Expect the Hawkeyes to beat up Michigan and control the ball in a low-scoring affair, as their defense delivers sweet revenge for last year's 42-17 drubbing.