Can Iowa even win?
Michigan is across the board better than Iowa. They have the best defense in the country. Their offense is really starting to come together. They look every bit the part of a team that is going to the CFB Playoffs.
While you can point to some similar situations in Iowa history with an undefeated team coming in to Iowa City and getting knocked off, those Hawkeye teams at least had some fire ower to get the job done. This year it’s hard to see how that could happen.
So what really is Iowa’s best chance? How could Iowa possibly win this game?
Win the turnover margin, by a lot
I haven’t seen anything this year to lead me to believe Iowa’s offense can even score on Michigan without help. And Michigan’s run game should be able to move the ball against Iowa’s front seven. So the biggest thing that could tip the scales is turnovers. If the defense could score, that’d be even better.
It will start with being aggressive against the run. While Michigan doesn’t have a running back like Barkley last week, they have three good running backs and a good power scheme. Iowa’s going to have to commit more guys to stop the run and hope the secondary can hold up. So this is not the game for Iowa to sit back in base defense and let Michigan chip away. It’s time to dial up the aggressiveness a notch and try to create turnovers.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa is going to struggle enough scoring points, so any turnovers would be killer. That’s not to say, though, that Iowa should go ultra-conservative and not take any shots downfield. But Iowa's path to victory here is to control the ball for long periods of time, shorten the game, and just hope that a lot of things go the right way.
Keep expanding Wadley’s role
Akrum Wadley has really been the only bright spot on Iowa’s offense the past month or so. He’s the only dynamic player that can create something even when the defense knows exactly what play Iowa is running. He can make defenders miss, turn 2-yard gains into 10, and squirt through holes that don’t look like they’re there.
He’s been getting about 15-20 touches per game and has gotten the ball in a variety of ways. Early on, they ran a lot of toss sweeps and counter-type plays with him, but lately it has been more standard stretch plays. They have gotten him more involved in the passing game, primarily with screens. Then last week they tried having him run a couple jet sweeps.
My fear is that because the experiment of Wadley in the slot didn’t work, then they’ll stop doing it. Because that’s the wrong thing to do. The reason it didn’t work is because they used him in the most predictable way possible. So instead of shrinking that role, they need to expand it. Have him run real routes from the slot. Try a bubble screen with Smith blocking (he’s been the best blocking receiver). Keep finding ways to get Wadley the ball and then hope he is able to make a play, or really, a lot of plays if Iowa is going to have a chance.
Whether Iowa gave up last week or not, the game was still over by halftime. Iowa actually didn’t start that badly. They gave up a touchdown on the opening drive, then moved the ball down the field in response, but failed to convert a QB sneak on 4th-and-short. The defense then gave up a big play, but then held and PSU missed a field goal. The next couple of drives Iowa had the ball in a good spot thanks to personal fouls on PSU and had 3rd-and-short both times but failed to convert. And then suddenly Penn State scored in bunches in the second quarter and that was that.
Iowa can’t afford to waste any opportunities tomorrow night. If they get good field position, they need to score. If they create a turnover, they need to score. On defense, if they force a 3rd-and-long, they need to get a stop. If they give up a big play, they need to hold UM to a field goal.
Start fast, keep the game close, slow it down, and give yourself a chance at the end of the game.
I think the energy from the night game will give Iowa and early boost and that they’ll be able to hang for about a quarter. But Michigan just has too many weapons, especially on defense. Once they settle in, I don’t see Iowa getting much more than a couple of first downs and expect another sub-100 yard rushing performance. I don’t think this one gets away from Iowa quite as much as the Penn State game did, but still the result will never be in question.
Final Score: Michigan 32, Iowa 10