5 keys: Undefeated Michigan needs to stay focused against slumping Iowa
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan hits the road for only the third time this season and plays in only its second out-of-state game this fall.
But the Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten Conference), who are No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, face a team that has an identity crisis when it visits Iowa at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
The Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3) haven’t won a game in nearly a month. They’re 12th in the Big Ten in total offense (335.4 yards). They’ve allowed their quarterbacks to get sacked 24 times in nine games. And they gave up a season-high 599 yards in Saturday’s 41-14 loss at Penn State.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, however, was complimentary of Iowa’s efforts — despite the Hawkeyes’ erratic season.
“A very good team that won their (division) last year and returned seven starters on defense,” Harbaugh said. “Very good quarterback, diverse schemes on both side of the ball. An excellent team.”
There doesn’t seem to be a lot that Michigan needs to do to prepare after a 59-3 domination last weekend against Maryland. But there’s still room to nit-pick.
Here’s what Michigan will need to focus on in preparation for Iowa:
1. The linebackers need to tighten up
While everyone else was celebrating Michigan’s 9-0 start and rout of Maryland, Mike McCray took to Twitter to do some self-assessment:
Gotta be better. And I will. I promise that.
— Mike McCray II (@BigPlayMcCray_9) November 6, 2016
Michigan’s top three linebackers — McCray, Ben Gedeon and Jabrill Peppers — combined for 21 tackles. But they played tentatively at certain points of the game, which allowed Maryland to gain yardage. The shortcomings in the front seven affected Michigan’s secondary, which leads to the next point.
2. The defense needs to work in sync
Maryland gave Michigan’s secondary its toughest workload this season, passing for nearly 300 the yards. Although the defensive backs and secondary did its job with two interceptions (both by Delano Hill) and six pass breakups, Maryland was successful against an otherwise stingy pass defense, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation. When Michigan’s defense has minimized the pass, many of the secondary players have pointed this season to the success of the front seven in cutting down play-making production by the opposition.
3. Get some sleep
Michigan’s later kickoff at Kinnick Stadium is its second (and final) night game of the season. And Iowa City is in a different time zone, an hour behind Ann Arbor. Rest, eating right, following a set schedule and avoiding any bugs that come with travel will be vital for the Wolverines, who play two of their final three games on the road — including the hotly anticipated showdown at Ohio State on Nov. 26 in Columbus.
4. Don’t be buoyed by Iowa’s struggles
Some see this tilt as the “trap game” — the possibility that an erratic Iowa could surprise the Wolverines. Iowa hasn’t won a game in nearly a month and, like Maryland against Michigan, got dominated last week by an AP Top 25/College Football Poll-ranked team that has picked up momentum as the season has progressed.
They could roar back — or Michigan could pounce early and often on a depleted Iowa team as it did last Saturday against Maryland.
5. Aim for consistency from Wilton Speight
A few days after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh advocated for Speight to be put into Heisman Trophy consideration, Speight’s numbers are still worth considering. Although he doesn’t have flashy, Heisman-worthy passing statistics, Speight averages 228.1 yards a game, has 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Furthermore, Speight has size, is mobile and fleet-footed, is a sound decision-maker and takes an even-keel mentality into the discipline of being a quarterback. As Speight goes, it seems, so does Michigan.