#4 Michigan 27, Iowa 14: Sometimes Goliath Wins Too

By RossWB on October 1, 2022 at 4:15 pm
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The dream of another Iowa giantslaying against a Top 5 opponent died a quiet, methodical death on a sunny, pleasant day in Kinnick Stadium as Michigan patiently squeezed the life out of Iowa for the better part of three quarters en route to a 27-14 victory. A spirited quasi-comeback in the fourth quarter made the final stats (and scoreline) look a bit more competitive than the game truly was this afternoon. 

After three quarters consider these numbers: 

SCORE 20 0
TOTAL OFF 290 155
1ST DOWN 23 8

Michigan was in firm control of the game. Michigan's offense turtled in the fourth quarter and the defense was much less intense (particularly on Iowa's final possession of the game, a garbage time touchdown drive), though they were still able to summon plenty of intensity when necessary (see: Iowa's second-to-last drive, when Spencer Petras was sacked/pressured on four consecutive plays). So Iowa out-gained Michigan 126 yards to 37 (and had an eight to one advantage in first downs) in the fourth quarter, but it's hard to feel too good about those numbers, given what came before in the first three quarters. 

Because the first three quarters of the game featured a whole lot of the same nothing that we've seen time and again from Iowa this season. 155 yards of offense, 4.8 yards per play (actually an improvement on the first two games of the season...), 2/7 on third downs. Until a bad punt (set up by a sack-fumble by the Iowa defense on a rare instance of getting pressure on Michigan QB JJ McCarthy) gave Iowa possession on the Michigan 44-yard line with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter, the Iowa offense had run a grand total of four plays in Michigan territory for the game. 

This game was firmly won by Michigan -- and lost by Iowa -- in the trenches. Michigan's lines dominated Iowa on both sides of the ball, but especially on offense, where Michigan's hosses completely neutered Iowa's front seven for much of the game. Michigan racked up 236 yards of offense in the first half (averaging 5.5 yards per play), including 131 yards on the ground (5.2 yards per carry), and held the ball for over 20 minutes. They were able to do that because their offensive line absolutely mauled Iowa's defensive line; Michigan running backs had a clear path to the linebackers on most plays and when they opted to throw the ball, McCarthy was really under duress.

That OL domination, coupled with a patient gameplan that prioritized steady runs and safe, short passes, enabled Michigan to grind out lengthy, clock-sucking, energy-sapping scoring drives. In the first half, Michigan had scoring drives that lasted 11 plays, 13 plays, and 13 plays. Even their lone drive that ended in a punt lasted 8 plays. The fact that the Iowa defense was able to stiffen in the red zone on Michigan's latter two scoring drives and hold the Wolverines to field goals was the only reason the game wasn't 21-0 at halftime and firmly out of reach. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Michigan's defense absolutely swallowed up Iowa's run game. Iowa's running backs finished with 66 yards on 20 carries (3.3 ypc). It didn't help that Iowa's best running plays of the day were erased by penalties (several of which were part of some truly abysmal calls on the day by the officiating crew), but mostly Iowa's running game struggled because the linemen struggled to open holes against Michigan's defensive front. Petras was sacked four times in the game, and while many of those sacks came late in the game, he was under pressure at other times as well. 

Petras' final stat line -- 21/31, 246 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT -- is, on paper, one of the best that he's produced in... well, a very long time. But it's hard to look past how much of it came with Iowa already down 20-0. Petras was 13/17 for 170 yards and a touchdown on Iowa's final four drives of the game, when they drove into the red zone three times and scored two touchdowns. Certainly it's good that he was able to find a rhythm and help guide Iowa to some productive drives, even if some of those drives were against a less-tenacious Michigan defense. But that doesn't erase the frustration that Petras -- and the Iowa offense writ large -- was unable to do anything against Michigan while this was still a competitive affair. 

If you wanted to look dig through the rubble to find a few minor positives, you could point out that Kaleb Johnson again had some very nice flashes at running back, albeit mostly on plays that ended up negated by penalty. The offense again looked slightly less anemic when more downfield throws were incorporated into the play calling*. It was good to see Iowa target players other than Sam LaPorta in the passing game as well. We like Slammin' Sammy plenty, but he also needs help. Iowa made good use of Luke Lachey (4 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD) and Nico Ragaini (4 receptions, 55 yards) today. Brody Brecht and Arland Bruce each had two catches apiece and Alec Wick caught a ball too. Five different players had at least two receptions and four different actual wide receivers caught passes; that's a welcome sight. 

* The only other thing to note about the play calling was that it was truly horrific on Iowa's red zone trip in the fourth quarter when down 20-7. No shots into the end zone. A pass short of the sticks on fourth-and-two. If the game hadn't been all but over by then, those play calls might have truly sucked the life out of us. 

For the better part of three quarters, Michigan ruthlessly exposed Iowa's clear weaknesses on offense and defense. The offensive weaknesses have been obvious all season: the offensive line is inconsistent (at best) and easy to overwhelm in run blocking and pass protection, the running game is DOA without an OL that can open holes or a passing game that can take pressure off the running backs, and Spencer Petras struggles with accuracy and mechanics, especially when pressured. The defensive weaknesses hadn't yet shown up this season, but if you have an offensive line that can neutralize Iowa's defensive line and a quarterback who will be patient and make safe throws, the Iowa defense will struggle (as it did today, especially in the first three quarters or so). Iowa wasn't able to force any turnovers, or pressure the QB, or generate negative plays. 

No giant was slayed today. Today Goliath slayed David. 

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