ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Iowa meet for the first time since 2013, and Iowa hopes to continue its good fortune against the Wolverines.
But playing the role of spoiler won’t be easy.
The last time the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) and the Wolverines (9-0, 6-0) met at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock — yes, once upon a time, Rudock played at Iowa — threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes capitalized on Anthony Hitchens’ fourth-quarter fumble recovery to hand the Wolverines a 24-21 loss.
This year, a win is valuable for either team. No. 3 Michigan can continue its pursuit of a berth in the College Football Playoff, while Iowa could redeem itself and become bowl-eligible.
This is the 60th meeting between the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes. Michigan is 41-14-4 all-time against the Hawkeyes, and 16-7-1 at Iowa.
When Michigan has the ball
Michigan has four running backs to choose from, and the question is: Who this week will step into the top role against Iowa, which has allowed 176.6 yards a game (10th in the Big Ten)? Iowa’s pass defense, however, could pose a challenge for Michigan and for Wilton Speight (2,053 yards, 15 touchdowns on 149-of-231 passing, three interceptions), despite that the Hawkeyes are 12th in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 225.4 yards.
While Speight continues to gain steam as the season progresses, Michigan’s receivers will face Iowa’s secondary, led by All-American cornerback Desmond King, who has defended seven passes this season and has 30 tackles. Michigan also faces a defense that’s allowed 21.3 points a game (fourth in the Big Ten).
When Iowa has the ball
Iowa has allowed 24 sacks this season, including four last Saturday at Penn State, and quarterback C.J. Beathard has passed for more than 200 yards a game only three times this season. The Hawkeyes will have to pass against the nation’s top pass defense (138.9 yards) but may have gotten a blueprint from Maryland, which accrued 289 passing yards against the Wolverines last week and forced Michigan’s secondary to defend eight passes, including two interceptions by Delano Hill.
Like Maryland last week, Iowa has two rushers who have combined for more than 1,200 yards this season — Akrum Wadley (99 carries, 664 yard, eight touchdowns) and LeShun Daniels Jr. (129 carries, 642 yard, six touchdowns), but Iowa doesn’t have a prolific run game.
King isn’t only effective on defense. He’s also a special teams specialist for the Hawkeyes. King averages 29.2 yards on kick returns, and is Iowa’s special-teams answer to the versatile Jabrill Peppers. Peppers, however, has been rather quiet on kickoff returns, with no more than 15 yards in Michigan’s last two games.
Iowa, meanwhile, has converted seven of nine field goals this season. Michigan kicker Kenny Allen is six for six on field goals in his last four games.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the Big Ten’s longest-tenured football coach, and led Iowa to a 12-0 regular season, to the 2015 Big Ten championship game and to the Rose Bowl. Iowa’s last two games, however, were both losses, which may have spilled into this season. Despite Ferentz’s contract extension in September, the Hawkeyes have bumbled their way through this season’s schedule. Iowa’s last win came Oct. 15 (deceptive, though, because of a bye Oct. 29), and is trying to formulate late-season plans in order to become bowl-eligible.
At Michigan, the gears continue to roll under Jim Harbaugh in his second season. The Wolverines are 9-0 for the first time since 2006 and are a team that strikes early on either side of the ball and dominates quickly and thoroughly.
Michigan is in pursuit of its 10th win, while Iowa is simply in pursuit of a signature win. Many perceive Saturday’s matchup as a “trap game” for Michigan, a team that has won six games by at least 33 points, with its closest margins of victory coming in a 14-7 win against Wisconsin and a 32-23 win at Michigan State. Iowa, though, still has something to prove despite its struggles, and is 4-1 in its last five meetings with Michigan.
Rachel Lenzi’s prediction: Michigan 35, Iowa 10
Brandon Justice’s prediction: Michigan 45, Iowa 21