IOWA CITY – When Kevonte Martin-Manley steps foot on the turf at Michigan Stadium, he’ll do so with more than 110,000 fans cheering. It couldn’t contrast his first experience more.
As a seventh grader, Martin-Manley jogged onto the grass at the Big House. There were no fans, no players, no coaches, just him and an open field he dreamed of playing on.
“I vividly remember it. Walking around the field, running around, getting a feel for it,” Martin-Manley said.
It was during the halftime of a Michigan basketball game. The Wolverines hosted Miami (Fla.) in the NIT quarterfinals. Michigan won 71-65, but the Pontiac, Mich., native doesn’t have the best recollection of the second.
His memories of what he did in place of watching the hardwood contest are still crystal clear.
“At halftime I just went outside,” Martin-Manley said. “They were doing construction on the stadium and I found my way in there.”
Martin-Manley grew up a Michigan fan, looking up to Wolverine wide receivers donning the No. 1. The Iowa wide out who wears No. 11 for Iowa, first looked up to Braylon Edwards and most recently tried to model his game around Mario Manningham.
Saturday he’ll be on enemy territory, but not illegally as a trespasser. He’ll have family on hand as well. He managed to claim six tickets, but six out of 112,000 seems miniscule.
“A lot of people are going to be disappointed in me,” Martin-Manley joked.
The demand was high, but that’s the consequences of playing on a televised game, instead of sneaking onto the field at halftime of a basketball game. The positive about this time is he gets to strap on a helmet.
“I really dreamed of playing in The Big House one day,” “It’s about to come true this weekend so it’s a big deal.”
No one better
James Vandenberg season-high in passing yards is 249 versus Indiana. He’s passed for less than 200 yards four times this season, including Iowa’s most recent game against Purdue. The less than stellar numbers might become even more pedestrian Saturday.
Michigan boasts the top pass defense in the country. The Wolverines allow 149.2 passing yards a game. Overall they’ve allowed 152 less than any team in the country.
“They give you some things to keep you up late at night, especially on 3rd down,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They do some things that are very, very challenging. The biggest thing is they really play hard.”
In addition to the stout pass defense, Michigan ranks in the top 20 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense efficiency.
The biggest attribute the Wolverines boast may not come with a stat, but with years.
“We’re going to have to play our best game yet. This season we haven’t performed very well the past few weeks. We’re going to have to rise to the challenge,” senior James Ferentz said. “You’re talking about four guys who do a graet job of not only creating edges but you know pressing and collapsing the pocket. Then you look at the three linebackers they have and you’re talking about some experienced players who have played a lot of football. So we certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Turnovers not paying off
Iowa lead the Big Ten in two of the most important categories in football: giveaways and takeaways. The Hawkeyes lead the conference creating 20 turnovers, one more than Penn State. They’re also tied for the fewest giveaways with Wisconsin, turning it over nine times.
“It’s a really important stat. It’s something that we’ve always believed,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But the one thing about it is, what we’re seeing right now is it doesn’t guarantee success in terms of wins and losses.”
Of the five teams that boast a positive turnover margin, Iowa is the only team that isn’t bowl eligible. Only 11 teams in the country own a better turnover margin per game average. Their combine record is 93-17. One of the 11 is undefeated, five have one loss on the year, three lost twice and two possess three losses. Iowa is 4-6.
“Obviously some of the key concepts we talk about is that margin,” senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We’ve been pretty well in that category this year, you still have to execute a lot of other things to win.”
Iowa played in six games decided by three points or less this season. In those games the Hawkeyes are 2-4. Reverse that record and Iowa sits at 6-4, having already clinched a bowl spot.
“You know, if you’re hanging around waiting for luck, you probably should get in a different profession or do something else,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re trying to focus on the things that we need to do better, and every game is a different circumstance. It’s true of seasons, too.”