IOWA CITY, Iowa — This is why we watch college football.
Iowa had no business competing with No. 3 Michigan Saturday night, not with the 23.5-point spread or the disparity in most statistical categories. Yet in front of a raucous Kinnick Stadium crowd, the Hawkeyes (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) put together their best performance this season in a last-second 14-13 upset of Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten). The crowd poured on to the Kinnick Stadium turf afterward, and the players reveled in the celebration.
The victory marked the Hawkeyes’ fourth straight over the Wolverines in Iowa City. Iowa has won five of six against Michigan in a streak that began in 2009. The Hawkeyes are bowl eligible for the 15th time in the last 16 years.
Here are grades for Iowa following its win to Michigan, on a scale from zero stars to five:
Offense (3 stars)
Holy smokes, did Akrum Wadley take a step into the spotlight. Iowa’s junior running back finished with 115 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards. It was his seventh — and most impressive — 100-yard rushing game, considering the opponent.
Iowa’s passing game continued to struggle outside of Wadley. Of Iowa’s eight completions, only three went to players other than Wadley for a total of 14 yards. The Hawkeyes played without starting tackle Cole Croston and tight end George Kittle, who wore a walking boot and wasn’t in uniform.
Defense (5 stars)
Iowa followed up its worst performance under Kirk Ferentz last week with one of its best. The Hawkeyes held the Big Ten’s top scoring offense (47.8 points per game) to 13 points. Michigan averaged almost 500 yards per game and Iowa kept the Wolverines to 201. One week after Iowa gave up 599 yards to Penn State, it’s extraordinary.
The Hawkeyes were aggressive, diligent and technically sound. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was dominant with nine total tackles, including a safety and a sack. True freshman Manny Rugamba started at cornerback for injured senior Greg Mabin and had an interception, three pass breakups and four tackles.
Special teams (5 stars)
True freshman Keith Duncan drilled 33-yard field goal on the game’s final play for the victory. That usually qualifies for a 5-star performance. Then when you consider Ron Coluzzi avoided a blocked punt (then shockingly flipped on to the turf on his own), averaged 47.0 yards per punt and drew a pair of running into the kicker penalties, it was a decent night.
Coaching (5 stars)
I struggle to recall a better-coached game by Iowa on both sides of the ball. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been a lightning rod of criticism lately, but he had terrific balance in his calls, especially early on. Then with the Hawkeyes facing third-and-7 at the Michigan 23, Davis called a quarterback draw that went for 8 yards. That led to the game-winning field goal.
The way both the defense — and the team — got up off the floor after last week’s performance shows the players are engaged and receptive to coaching. The fact the Hawkeyes didn’t fall apart reflects on the people leading them.
Overall (5 stars)
On a day when fans initially struggled to generate their typical enthusiasm around Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes gave the fans a reason to cheer. Iowa won 12 regular-season games in 2015 but none were of the signature variety like this one.
Michigan’s average margin of victory was 37.1 points entering the game, easily the nation’s best. But even without three injured starters, Iowa fought on each and every down. When it didn’t score, the offense flipped field position. The defense held strong and didn’t give anything away. This was one of those games that Iowa fans will remember for generations.