#19 Michigan 10, #14 Iowa 3: Where Offense Goes To Die

By RossWB on October 5, 2019 at 9:18 pm
yuck
© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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One week ago Iowa set a record for total offense in the 21-year history of the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa. This week the offense produced one of its most futile efforts of that 21-year span. Michigan is a far more formidable opponent than Middle Tennessee State, obviously, but this was still a brutally inept display on offense and one that utterly crippled Iowa's hopes of beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Iowa's offense began the game with an ominous sign: Mekhi Sargent fumbled the ball on Iowa's very first offensive snap. Michigan recovered and while the Iowa defense stood firm and held them to a field goal, Michigan still got on the board first and took a 3-0 lead. Iowa followed up that Michigan scoring drive with a punt, at which point Michigan put together the only good offensive drive of the game for either team. The Wolverines covered 70 yards on six plays (most coming on a 51-yard deep pass to Nico Collins on first down) and finished the drive off with a two-yard Zach Charbonnet touchdown run. Little did we know that would be the only touchdown of the game -- for either team. 

Nate Stanley and Shea Patterson traded interceptions a few series later; there were four turnovers in the first quarter alone (Michigan also had a fumble on a punt return, but recovered it), but unfortunately for Iowa Michigan ended up with the ball after three of those turnovers. Iowa's only scoring drive came on the series after Stanley's (first) interception. After the defense forced a punt, Iowa's offense managed to scrape together a 14-play, 61-yard drive that 6:25 but ended in a field goal. Despite getting the ball to 1st and goal at the Michigan 10-yard line, Iowa was unable to score a touchdown; after two running plays picked up six yards, Stanley's third down throw was out of the reach of Oliver Martin in the end zone. Iowa settled for a field goal... which ended up being the final points scored in the entire game. 

Here's how the remaining 16 drives in the game went: 

  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa punt
  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa interception
  • Michigan missed field goal (58 yards -- end of half)
  • Iowa interception
  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa punt
  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa punt
  • Michigan missed field goal (34 yards)
  • Iowa punt
  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa punt
  • Michigan punt
  • Iowa turnover on downs

This game was an absolute debacle for both offenses. They combined for 468 yards on 131 plays, or a grim 3.57 yards per play. Burn all tape of this game and never speak of it again. 

Iowa crossed the 50-yard line and ran plays on the Michigan side of the field seven times. Outside of the field goal drive, those drives ended with a punt from the Michigan 42 (after getting the ball to the Michigan 30, Iowa went sack for -7 yards, incomplete pass, delay of game penalty), an interception from the Michigan 33, an interception from the Michigan 36, a punt from the Michigan 39 (after getting the ball to the Michigan 35, Iowa went sack for -4 yards, incomplete pass), a punt from the Iowa 49 (after getting the ball to the Michigan 25, Iowa had consecutive holding penalties, a pass for 5 yards, a pass for 6 yards, a false start penalty, and a sack for -12 yards), and a turnover on downs at the Michigan 46. After that second quarter field goal drive, Iowa never again entered the Michigan red zone.

This was a pitiful offensive performance in virtually all facets. From a tactical standpoint, Iowa moved away from the run in favor of an abundance of shotgun sets and 4- and 5-wide looks; suffice to say, that approach did not work. Iowa's running game was hardly brilliant today -- the running backs managed 67 yards on 21 carries, a 3.2 yards per carry average -- but essentially abandoning the run in the seocnd half in a one-score game did not pay off. 

Nate Stanley added another entry to his dishonor roll of performances on the road against ranked opponents. He finished 23/42 (55%) for 260 yards (6.2 ypa), no touchdowns, and three interceptions; he was also sacked eight times (!) for -65 yards. The sad thing is that compared to his struggles at Michigan State or Wisconsin in 2017 or at Penn State last year, this was probably one of his better performances on the road in these sort of spotlight games. It was still a thoroughly frustrating and underwhelming performance, though. 

Stanley was also victimized by an offensive line that was unable to offer much protection, especially in the second half as Michigan's defense teed off on Stanley and racked up sack after sack. Some of the sacks were the result of Stanley holding onto the ball too long, but in many cases his pocket simply disintegrated. Many of the sacks came from Michigan's relentless blitzing, which brought extra defenders from different angles and left Iowa's blockers baffled and helpless and Stanley getting slammed to the turf. Iowa's going to see plenty of blitzes from opposing defenses after this performance, so they'd better work on dealing with it, or we're going to be treated to a few more offensive meltdowns like this. 

Iowa's defense did their part to give Iowa a chance to win this game; after giving up two early scores (one on a very short field), they held Michigan to just 175 yards and zero points over the final 52 minutes (though they benefited from a bit of good fortune with Michigan's missed 34-yard field goal). The only things the defense didn't do were force more turnovers or score a touchdown themselves; while it turns out that's what we needed them to do for Iowa to have a shot to win this game, that's also not exactly reasonable. They held Michigan to 10 points and 267 yards; those totals ought to be more than enough for Iowa to win a game. They weren't today because Iowa's offense managed just one field goal and 261 yards of offense. Iowa finished the game with one yard rushing and four turnovers (and a -3 turnover margin); those will almost never be winning totals for Iowa. 

It doesn't get any easier next week, with a Penn State team that boasts a potent offense and a smothering defense headed to Kinnick Stadium for a night game. Iowa better find some answers fast or it could be another brutally hard-to-watch performance in a spotlight game. 

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