Michigan’s defense did what it had to do the majority of the game. But when it mattered, the run defense went ghost.
Iowa (6-4, 4-3 in Big Ten) got into the end zone just once on Saturday night against Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten). But that one score was enough to bring down the no-longer-undefeated Wolverines.
In the second half, Iowa, which had issues running the ball the entire game, began to run at will. Its leading rusher, Akrum Wadley, had nine different carries for went for more than 5 yards in the second half, and three of those went for more than 10 yards. A lot of those runs were substantial, because five of them went for a first down.
One of the biggest issues was missed tackles. Wadley had 54 yards after contact Saturday night, the most Michigan has given up all season. Michigan CB Channing Stribling had an interception that, at the time, was thought to be the game-winner. But Stribling’s struggles in run defense continue, while a banged-up Mike McCray struggled to get to the outside run.
Iowa’s 230 yards of total offense doesn’t say much on paper, and there’s no reason to blame the defense for this game.
“I don’t know (why they could run so well). They have two hard running backs, and the offensive line blocked really well,” Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas said following the loss to Iowa.
But when Michigan’s defense faced its first challenge of the season. When its back was against the wall for the first time in 2016, it didn’t answer. The defense failed to make the game-winning stop, and Michigan failed to stay undefeated.
Wadley ran for 115 yards, a game-best for the Hawkeyes. No yards were more important than his 10-yard run to get Iowa a first down to begin its fourth quarter drive with under a minute left.
Two more runs for him set up Iowa for a third down that became the game’s difference maker.
There were 27 seconds left on the clock when the ball was snapped. Many expected run, but Iowa QB C.J. Beathard dropped back in the pocket, and gazed his options to find nothing. A moment that all season has resulted in a collapsing pocket, and sack for Michigan’s defense, turned into a open hole up the middle that led Beathard to set up the game-winning field goal.
There’s no reason to blame Saturday night’s outcome on the defense. Wilton Speight’s struggles, accompanied by the offensive line’s bigger ones, had a lot to do with why Michigan walked out with its lowest number on the scoreboard of the season with just 13 points.
But when the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense finally had an off-night, when it finally showed its mortality, it needed the defense to have its back for the first time since Oct. 1 when Michigan defeated Wisconsin 14-7.
And when the offense called on its defense with under a minute left in the game, they couldn’t answer. And, now, Michigan is no longer undefeated.
The good news is that the Wolverines’ strong start allows them to remain comfortable. Nothing changes, even if Michigan now has a loss. If the Wolverines win their next two games, they’re in the Big Ten championship game. And, of course, if they win that, their ticket to the College Football Playoff will be waiting at will call.
Here’s some wealthy advice: Don’t panic. Relax.
Michigan gets back at it next Saturday against Indiana at 3:30 p.m. ET in Ann Arbor.