Let's Fret: Michigan

By BenSewardLewis on July 5, 2022 at 3:03 pm
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© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Is It The Big Ten Championship Part Deux?

Up to now, the whole “we might lose this game!” has been more literary conceit than actual concern. Iowa will be favored to win each of their first four games and “should” win them all. Going 3-1 over that stretch would be a bummer, but that record wouldn’t tank Iowa’s season. (Though a loss to Rutgers would come close.) Anything worse though, and it is probably time to gird your loins.

That’s because when Michigan rolls into Kinnick on October 1st, shit is going to get very real, very quickly. If there is a team that needs no introduction to Hawkeye fans, it is the Michigan Wolverines. If you otherwise blacked out or suppressed the trauma, Iowa last saw Michigan on December 4th in the Big Ten Championship, a 42-3 drubbing in which Iowa’s defense and special teams were uncharacteristically bad, and the offense was bad, characteristically. It was a real “know your role and shut your mouth jabroni” kind of loss.

Michigan’s whole “let’s be as good as we possibly can in every phase of the game” philosophy is a real slap in the face to Kirk’s “we can only succeed if our offense does no more than take up space” attitude towards the game of football. Because that was the difference between Michigan and Iowa last year. Michigan’s defense probably looked prettier, what with their big sexy pass rush and all, overall, over the course of the entire season, Iowa and Michigan were pretty close in terms of the quality of their defense. (And Michigan’s special teams were also neck-and-neck with Iowa’s. Wolverine kicker Jake Moody was the 2021 Lou Groza Award winner and is back again for 2022.) Michigan just had the audacity to complement those two phases with an offense that was not only functional, but downright good.

Michigan’s secret? Running the football really, really well. They led the Big Ten in rushing in fact, averaging an extremely gaudy 214 yards/game and, as a reminder, the Big Ten has some pretty nasty run defenses in them. (This got me wondering: when was the last time Iowa had such bangin’ rushing numbers? The answer turned out to be super-obvious -- the 2002 season, in which Iowa ran for 214 yards/game, finishing second in the Big Ten. If you skip ahead to the Shonn Greene year in 2008 when Iowa finished fourth and the magical 2015 season when Iowa finished 5th, you have the complete list of times Iowa has finished in the top five of rushing yards/game in the Big Ten in the Kirk Ferentz Era.) But Michigan also grafted a very good passing game onto this excellent rushing game, averaging 228 yards/pop through the air, giving them one of the best offenses in the Big Ten and probably one of the upper level offenses in college football.

Depending on your confidence in Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, you can maybe talk yourself into Michigan being not quite as good in 2022. They had three defenders taken in the NFL Draft, most notably All-World Defensive End Aiden Hutchinson (2nd overall), and a whole bunch of other players signed as undrafted free agents. And sure, when you are so good in all three phases of the game, a modest dip in any one of those phases would make the team technically “worse,” but let’s be real here. Aside from the Covid season, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines have had a hard floor of 8-4 since he got there. They are going to be a very good team at an absolute minimum.

If you are desperate to find a couple of x-factors for Iowa in this matchup, here are two that will no doubt be discussed in the build-up to the game: 1) Iowa’s thirst for revenge and 2) Kinnick night magic. And sure, after the Big Ten Title Game beatdown, Iowa may be extra-motived to win, but revenge isn’t really the right word for that, unless teepeeing someone’s house after they poison your dog is considered revenge. But Kinnick Night Magic, homer or no, is a very real thing.

Now we shouldn’t let our wings get ahead of our talons here. There is no kickoff time set for this game yet and it certainly could get the daytime treatment, but if this game is under the lights, well, that is a Herky of a different color. Because under the cool October sky in Iowa City, with 70,000 lunatics in the stands, no talent advantage is safe. Couple that with the prospect that Michigan might be slightly less elite in 2022, and you can pretty easily talk yourself into an upset.

But, I’m going at this a little bit backwards. Michigan’s defense could be in full-on rebuild mode and still be more than capable of rendering Iowa’s inert offense even more inert. With Charlie Jones gone and Michigan’s Jake Moody back, it is hard to see an edge for Iowa’s special teams, and with plenty of talent on the offensive side returning, Michigan will have an actual offense. Given all that, where is the juice for Iowa to squeeze? Well, please, Mr. Kevin Warren, how about a 7:00 P.M. kickoff for this game?

Ben’s Anxiety Scale: 7/10

Homer Version: Revenge is a dish best served under the lights in Kinnick, as 2022 Michigan is forced to reckon with the reality that they aren’t 2021 Michigan.

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