The Takeaway: Michigan

By Adam Jacobi on November 14, 2016 at 10:00 am
Manny Rugamba saves the day!
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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Sure, Iowa just upset No. 3 Michigan under the lights, 14-13. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating the Wolverines? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

LOCAL IDIOT BLOGGER WAS WRONG

So, 66-3 didn't exactly happen. Not quite. Whoops.

Picking up a win over No. 3 Michigan wasn't going to be easy with a full roster; missing senior starters at wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback (to say nothing of George Kittle's absence at TE) made the task nearly Herculean.

Fortunately, the Hawkeyes played their best game of the season by leaps and bounds, and buoyed by a white-hot crowd, that was just enough to put the team in position to win the game.

Jaleel Johnson had his best game as a Hawkeye, registering a team-high nine tackles, including six solo. He notched that early safety that kept Iowa in the game, and he probably won't get enough credit for the sheer level of difficulty involved in not letting De'Veon Smith—all 5'11" and 288 pounds of him—wriggle forward for even a yard after contact. 

That's probably a very bad decision by senior guard Kyle Kalis (or perhaps a play design with a very bad miscalculation of what that large man at the 3-technique is capable of doing), but it's not easy to get in position to drop Smith in the end zone, much less successfully do it, and Johnson delivered. 

Last year Manny Rugamba was playing ball in suburban Chicago. Now he's out here shutting down Amara Darboh, one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten. Coming into Week 11 action, Darboh was second in the Big Ten in receiving yards, on pace to break 1,000 yards for the season and had a catch of 30 or more yards in every game but one.

He's now fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards, off the 1,000-yard pace unless Michigan gets a 14th game, and now has a catch of 30 or more yards in every game but two.

Rugamba hounded Darboh all night, breaking up three passes and limiting him to one catch for five yards on eight (eight!!) targets. Wilton Speight missed on some throws, to be sure—he was battered and miserable by the end of the game—but the coverage was solid all night. Rugamba also corralled a clutch interception late in the fourth quarter, ripping the ball away from Jehu Chesson and keeping Iowa within a field goal of the win. The target was on Rugamba's back all night, and deservedly so; we're talking about a 172-pound true freshman making his first start, going up against very large and experienced wideouts. But he put together one of the best performances of the season in Iowa's secondary, and Iowa wouldn't have won with an average game there.

Josey Jewell was relentless, and Michigan didn't do much to slow him down. Ben Niemann finally played back to his 2015 form. Bo Bower was solid in run support. And senior safety Anthony Gair, who was pressed into action when Miles Taylor was injured two plays into the game, added seven tackles and assisted on a TFL. The defense had no weak links on Saturday, and Michigan was incapable of breaking the big plays it depends on. 

Even Iowa's special teams were wonderful in the second half (um, "roughing the center" aside). Ron Coluzzi was battered early and still punted Iowa right back into contention; the safety was set up by a 54-yard punt that he killed at the 2-yard line. Keith Duncan is a Hawkeye immortal now. And so on and so on.

And good LORD, Akrum Wadley. Perhaps it was the big stage, or the high stakes, or the obviously great defense in front of him, or whatever. Whatever got into Wadley, he put together his best performance as a Hawkeye on Saturday, full stop—and that includes the four-score afternoon at Northwestern last year. Wadley juked Michigan's vaunted defenders at will (I guess you could say he roasted Peppers), but never got cute or indecisive with his jump cuts. Wadley ran devilishly and purposefully for 115 hard-fought yards, and he contributed 52 of Iowa's 66 receiving yards. Only LJ Scott (186 yards) has had more yards from scrimmage against Michigan's defense all season. 

Didn't it feel like this was going to go Iowa's way for basically the last 36 minutes of the game? Like the Hawkeyes weren't going to lose close? It was easy to see the game getting away from them early when they were down 10-0 and punting the ball back away, but the moment Johnson got that safety and planted that seed of doubt in the Wolverines' heads, it just seemed like Iowa knew it was capable of taking the game back. Like, the Hawkeyes weren't getting this kind of out-of-their-gourds level of excellence from so many players listed above (and more we didn't even get to) without it turning into a W by the final gun.

Confidence is a hell of a drug. Iowa didn't have it at Penn State and got run out of the stadium. The team lost it in the second halves of the Northwestern and NDSU games, and you see what happened. But bring a team as good as Michigan into Kinnick and get our guys believing they can take the Wolverines out, and you see their best performance of the year.

There's two games left in the regular season, and while there's virtually no chance the Hawkeyes move past Wisconsin in the Big Ten West division race, they do now have a bowl to look forward to. 9-4 sounds like a decent enough goal, don't you think?

GO IOWA AWESOME.

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