When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez’s most significant change on his coaching staff coming out of last season’s 3-9 was defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, formerly head coach at Syracuse. It’s Michigan’s third defensive coordinator in as many season, so, yes, continuity is a problem, but does it show up on game day?
The Wolverines are now a 3-4 defense, kind of. Freshman outside linebacker Craig Roh is listed as an OLB, but seems to play more of a standup D-end in this scheme. Robinson came in promising aggressiveness, which is saying the right thing after the Wolverines allowed the most points in school history (347) and ranked at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in turnovers forced and yards allowed last season.
So far, it’s very much a work in progress.
The Wolverines aren’t stopping the run particularly well (153.0 ypg, eighth in the Big Ten). The pass defense is a little worse, allowing 239.0 ypg (ninth in the Big Ten). But their red zone defense (inside the their 20-yard line) has been solid, allowing scores 15 of 19 times and just eight TDs. So, UM is keeping points off the board, allowing 23.4 points, fourth in the Big Ten.
There are signs of promise for UM, which is ranked No. 91 in the country in total defense. Mostly, that’s the D-line trio of Mike Martin, Brandon Graham and Ryan Van Bergen. They provided good push and stalemated Michigan’s State’s O-line in last week’s 26-20 overtime loss. The Spartans rushed for 197 yards, but averaged just 4.0 on 49 carries.
Graham has NFL first-rounder taped on the front of his helmet. He as second in the nation last season with 20 tackles for loss. He’s No. 7 on Michigan’s career sack list with 20. So far this year, he leads the Wolverines with 6.5 tackles for loss, sixth in the Big Ten. Van Bergen is ninth in the league with 2.5 sacks.
The Wolverines have has some flux in the secondary. Corner Donovan Warren has been a standout (two interceptions), but, last week, red-shirt freshman J.T. Floyd replaced Boubacar Cissoko.
The Wolverines are a lot like the Hawkeyes’ D with a zone, “keep it in front of you” mentality. Crossing routes in the zone can be had, if Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi is on. Also, tackling has been a problem with this group, including 17 misses last week. On the deciding play, the Wolverines whiffed twice on MSU RB Larry Caper.
Stanzi won the QB job last season with his accurate throws on the move. Last week, he flashed some of that in the pocket, hitting on TD passes of 33, 41 and 43. But he also lapsed into inconsistent Ricky, with the 75-yard pick six to LB Demario Davis in the fourth quarter, giving Arkansas State life.
Last week, he was fooled by a coverage and threw a pick and then tried to make something happen and ended up trying to make a TD-saving tackle. On the flip side, he threw three long TD passes, plays that coach Kirk Ferentz said hadn’t happened at Iowa in a decade.
With Michigan playing loose zones, Stanzi will have a chance to put his imprint on this game, good or bad.
Iowa’s O-line needs to be better this week and it knows it. Iowa averaged 3.76 yards a carry last week. That’s a losing number this week. They did say Arkansas State unleashed a slant scheme they weren’t prepared for, but, to a man, they said it had nothing to do with continuity (OT Bryan Bulaga played after missing three games) and had everything to do with mental error and technical mistakes.
In five games, Iowa has had five different leading receivers. That’s healthy on so many levels, depth chart and scheme. This week, TE Tony Moeaki (high-ankle sprain) is supposed to return. Iowa’s offense is married to the TE. In this game, against zone, Iowa’s two-TE sets could make a dent — if it’s available.
In his first game with all the parts working and on the field, Stanzi should put up a clean performance.
When the Wolverines have the ball
It was asked early this week, but it bears re-examination: How healthy is Michigan QB Tate Forcier?
Coming off a tight win against Indiana where he dinged his right shoulder, Forcier threw the ball 32 times and rushed 17 in last week’s loss to Michigan State. Several times throughout the game, his right shoulder slumped and visibly drooped on a third-and-1 dive late. At some point, coach Rich Rodriguez said Forcier took a shot in the ribs which affected him enough to be limited in practice earlier this week.
Also, during his Monday news conference, Rodriguez was asked if Forcier was gassed at the end of the game. The 6-1, 187-pound freshman missed some practice before MSU. And maybe the keyword in that sentence is “187,” which is really more of a number. Forcier, who’s thrown two winning late TD passes (Notre Dame and Indiana) and the tying one last week, has shown great toughness and grit, but he’s also a 187-pound true freshman who throws his body around the field like a Frisbee. The Big Ten is going to take a toll.
Michigan has a thunder/lightning deal going on in its backfield with Brandon Minor (6-1, 216) bringing thunder and Carlos Brown (6-0, 210) being lightning. Brown is fifth-leading rusher in the Big Ten with 67.2 yards a game. He’s scored on a 90-yard run and 61-yard pass this season.
Martavious Odoms (14 receptions), Darryl Stonum (10) and Junior Hemingway (10) are Michigan’s top receivers. They operate Rodriguez’s spread and are particularly dangerous, as is Brown, when they go to work in space.
Rodriguez’s running game depends on tempo. A lot of that was lost when center David Molk broke a foot against Eastern Michigan. Since, the bodies have been shuffling. Senior David Mossman has taken over at center, moving from right guard. Sophomore Mark Huyge has moved from right tackle to guard. Junior Perry Dorrestein has moved into tackle. Junior John Ferrara rotates into the lineup at guard.
Last week, UM rushed 28 times for 28 yards. The Wolverines struggled with MSU’s quickness. Still, UM and Forcier’s zone read average 197.8 rushing yards a game.
The quick mention of Iowa this week in Ann Arbor went to the Hawkeyes’ D-line — DEs Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns and DTs Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. They’re the rock stars of a unit that boasts the conference’s top pass efficiency defense (91.2) and also leads in take-aways (10).
Michigan hasn’t seen an Iowa, yet. The Hawkeyes saw a Michigan-lite last week in Arkansas State and QB Corey Leonard, whose arm kept and deft operation of the spread option kept taking chunks out of Iowa’s zone coverage.
Defensive coordinator Norm Parker will rely on the front four not only to pressure Forcier but also to contain him. The freshman isn’t afraid to use his feet. Neither is Denard Robinson, another freshman QB who already has three rush TDs and averages 5.3 yards a carry.
Michigan needs quick strike to work. The Wolverines are 115th in the country in time of possession (26:27), which isn’t a big deal if you’re scoring TDs. UM has been doing that, with 34.0 points a game this season.
Forcier has provided magic, every week, on the fly. When a play breakdown, Forcier has made good things happen for the Wolverines. To combat this, Iowa’s defense will have to stick to what’s been it’s golden rule in 11 seasons under Parker: If you’re going to get beat, get beat in front of you and not behind you.
The seven or eight defenders in coverage have to play coverage until Forcier crosses the line of scrimmage. Iowa does this exceedingly well.
This might be the only week a team can bring a punter at Iowa who might be better than the Hawkeyes’ Ryan Donahue. Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko has the Wolverines at No. 5 in the nation in net punting (42.9). He’s tied for the Big Ten lead in punts (25) and still averages 44.0 yards a kick. Iowa still has punt coverage on the Wolverines, allowing just 0.9 yards a return (that’s insane) to Michigan’s 1.3.
Kicker goes to Michigan, but not by a lot. Senior Jason Olesnavage has hung around for five years and is finally the man, hitting 5 of 6, including 2 of 2 from 40-plus. Was last week’s badly pulled 28-yarder a blip or a trend from Iowa’s Daniel Murray? He’s 6 of 9 this year, but Ferentz was asked for the second straight week about sophomore kicker Trent Mossbrucker, who dresses every week despite the fact that he might be red-shirted this season.
UM’s Darryl Stonum against Iowa’s kick coverage is key here. On 15 returns, Stonum averages 30.1 yards with a 94-yard TD already on his resume. Iowa’s kick return unit has allowed one big return every week. Murray’s kickoffs were questioned this week. He has two touchbacks this season, compared to seven from UM’s Jason Wright.
Cleanliness is next to Stanzi-Ness tonight for the Hawkeyes. He’s the constant for Iowa’s offense. Everything he does, good and bad, ripples through the team. He needs a clean performance. Clean as in few risks, smart reads and good lines of communication with the receivers. That said, the Hawkeyes are going as far as this defense takes them. The defense should carry a win.
Iowa 27, Michigan 17