No. 15 Michigan came into Saturday’s tilt against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium needing to show the rest of the Big Ten that they’re capable of winning on the road. At 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference, Brady Hoke and the Wolverines are tied with Michigan State and Nebraska atop the Legends Division, this game will go a long way toward deciding who represents that side of the draw in the Big Ten title game.
And with the Wolverines looking ahead to subsequent matchups with Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State, earning a win Saturday against 5-3 Iowa will be necessary to staying in the hunt for a potential New Year’s Day bowl berth.
After two hard-fought quarters, here are five things Michigan must do to stay in the game against the super tough Hawkeyes:
1. Take the crowd out of game
The Iowa fans at Kinnick Stadium are loud and can be disruptive for the visiting team. And with the Wolverines going three and out on their first drive, and the Hawkeyes subsequently driving right down the field for 76 yards in six plays for the opening points, there was reason for them to be enthused about their team’s success.
But with Michigan’s next drive, one that resulted in a Denard Robinson touchdown pass to Fitz Toussaint, the Wolverines quieted down the crowd considerably.
To keep the Iowa fans quiet and out of the game, Michigan must put together some long possessions, dominate the clock and put some points on the board.
2. Dominate on the offensive line of scrimmage
How can Michigan put together long drives? Well, by running the ball.
How will they successfully run the ball, something they haven’t done with any consistency in the first half? By dominating the offensive line of scrimmage.
With Taylor Lewan a little gimpy and Michael Schofield in for regular starter Ricky Barnum, the Wolverines line hasn’t had it easy to this point. They’ll need to open up some serious holes to help Robinson get on track on the ground in the second half.
3. Contain the Iowa running game
Hawkeyes tailback Marcus Coker is making a shambles of the Wolverines front seven. And with true freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan missing head-on tackles and filling incorrect gaps, the holes are that much bigger for Coker, who has already posted 74 yards a touchdown.
If they hope to stop the Hawkeyes on defense, Michigan must plug those holes with linebackers who know both where to be and how to tackle.
4. Put pressure on Iowa’s quarterback
James Vandenberg has too much talent just to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Michigan secondary. Second in the Big Ten in passing yardage and third in throwing efficiency, Vandenberg can’t be allowed to survey the field, look for big-time wideout Marvin McNutt and whoever else might be open across the field and hum it in their general direction.
Michigan must put pressure on Vandenberg in the pocket, make him uncomfortable and force him into some tougher, more questionable throws.
5. Avoid disaster on special teams
Well, we’d avoided it for several weeks now, but the recent Michigan kicking problem reared its ugly head yet again in the first half with a botched extra point.
It’s fundamentals like that can win—or, in this case, lose—games, especially against tough opponents.
We’ll see if the Wolverines can make up for it in the second half.