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Friday, October 20, 2006

Run Offense vs. Iowa

Iowa's been vulnerable to bounceouts and misdirection for most of the year. Antonio Pittman made a living bouncing outside of the tackles in their game versus Ohio State; the Iowa linebackers just weren't able to -- say it with me -- keep contain. That'll be less of an issue against a Michigan run game that has exactly zero misdirection, but when you give up 158 yards to Indiana the problems go deeper than outside contain. To wit:
  • The replacements for Hodge and Greenway have come nowhere near to living up to their predecessors. This is not surprising, surely. But the dropoff in athleticism from last year to this year has been drastic.
  • The defensive line, banged up and undersized, has not compensated. No Roth or Babineaux has stepped forth. Iwebema and King have been pretty good but mostly against weak competition. With King injury-hampered, the rest of the line has been a bunch of Masseys.
Though Mike Hart managed to crack 100 yards, Michigan struggled versus the excellent Penn State front seven. If your defensive tackles can penetrate past the sometimes-shaky interior of the line and your linebackers can get off blocks and flow to the ball, you can catch Mike Hart in the backfield more often than not. He'll escape and get three yards anyway, but you'll slow down the Michigan ground game. Iowa has none of these things and though they'll play tough, I expect Hart to have a significantly easier day than he did versus Penn State and glide past 100 yards easily if he gets enough carries to do so.

Key Matchup: Hart versus Klikenborg, Humpel, et al. There should be lanes available and linebackers either out of position or overpursuing. Sharp, correct cuts should yield big chunks of yards.

Pass Offense vs. Iowa

Mario Manningham will sit out this game, but as Mark Hasty says:
It wouldn’t matter if Michigan put Mario Batali at wideout. It wouldn’t matter if they put Mario Lanza at wideout. It wouldn’t matter if they put Bo Schembechler in a Mario The Plumber costume at wideout, as long as all of these well-known Marios ran about five yards and hooked in. They would always be open, and there wouldn’t be a white jersey between them and the first-down marker.
So... yeah. My preseason trepidation about the Hawkeye cornerbacks, one of whom is from Nebraska if you know what I mean, has been just about the only thing I got right about the 2006 Hawkeyes. Anyone's who's seen Indiana's winning touchdown from last week no doubt wondered something like "shouldn't there be a guy within ten yards of their best receiver?"

Well, wonderers, the answer to your question is "yes." But that's what happens when Iowa corners try to do something other than panic and run backwards after the snap. The cushion they cede is required to prevent bombs from being dropped on their heads. With their safeties banged up and sack leader Mitch King unlikely to play, Iowa is not in a position to do much else other than lay back and hope to tackle.

Like last week, this should provide opportunities for Steve Breaston to turn moderate gains into big ones. The dodgy athleticism of the Iowa linebackers should get Carson Butler open downfield. Adrian Arrington, coming into his own, should be the recipient of a Michigan touchdown or two. Uh... advantage Wolverines.

Key Matchup: I could say Riley vs. Iwebema and that would be vaguely right. But the line's been doing a bangup job in protection and the deeper truth is that Iowa's defense isn't in a position to stop Michigan's passing offense unless it stops itself. We do that: Henne throws errantly or Breaston drops one or Riley remembers he's a revolving door. So: Michigan versus Unforced Errors. Sorry, Hawkeyes.

Run Defense vs. Iowa

Albert Young says he'll play but no one thinks he's 100%. Expect a heavy does of tiny scatback Damien Sims, who's not a bad runner in his own right and is a different sort of back than Michigan has faced to date. Our pounding run defense has shut down PJ Hill, Tony Hunt, and Jehuu Caulcrick but has yet to really face the Calhoun or Ringer type of back that gashed us so badly a year ago. There is the potential for some of those irritating bounce-out runs if Crable and Burgess are not responsible.

One thing that is unlikely to repeat: Young's slashing performance from a year ago where he found the oft-cavernous gaps in the Michigan defensive line and ruthlessly exploited them to the point that Chris Graham was lifted in favor of Johnny Thompson in the second half. That relied heavily upon single-blocking Pat Massey and whoever wasn't Lamarr Woodley (who only played two snaps in that game, remember) and crushing our hesitant linebackers. There's no one on this line you can single-block in the run game and expect consistent success against. Young, if healthy, might rip off a couple nice 8-10 yard runs, but by in large it's going to be MOTS from the run defense.

Key Matchup: Crable and Burgess vs. Sims. An interesting test of our linebackers' responsibility and a preview of what we might expect versus Ohio State.

Pass Defense vs. Iowa

Drew Tate's senior year is not going as planned. Devoid of playmakers at wide receiver and struggling through a series of injuries, he's been more bad than good. Por ejemplo: the first interception he threw against Ohio State was a very un-Dude moment. Tate waited way too long, allowing the Buckeye safety to make an easy break on the ball and Kirk Herbstreit to launch into a veritable instructional seminar on how not to throw down the middle. That's Drew Tate? He's but 44th in passing efficiency despite playing but one team with a defensive heartbeat (Ohio State), and from what I've seen he's just not the methodical surgeon who dissected Michigan's candyfloss zone last year. Like Stanton, he seems to have regressed because of injury and depressed talent elsewhere on his offense.

Things in the wide receiver corps were grim at the start of the year, then senior Calvin Davis blew out his ACL and Detroit freshman Dominique Douglas suffered a sprain. Iowa's reduced to Herb Grigsby and redshirt freshman Troy Stross, a far cry from the Hinkel-Solomon combination that drove the Iowa offense last year. And have I mentioned that left tackle Dace Richardson, a hyped recruit but still only a sophomore, is dinged and questionable for this week's game?

Meanwhile, the Michigan defensive line has just finished knocking out two Penn State quarterbacks after sacking them seven times. That performance is unlikely to be repeated against the mobile Tate and what should be an Iowa game plan heavily reliant on rollouts and three-step drops to protect Tate's battered ribs but the mere threat of it combined with the questionable-at-best Iowa wideouts will combine to make the deep ball all but impossible for the Hawkeyes. With Michigan free to encroach upon the line of scrimmage, long drives will be hard to come by.

Key Matchup: Dace Richardson or his frightened replacement versus Woodley. If Woodley's going to win the Heisman he needs a couple sacks.

Special Teams

Iowa has one of the country's premiere kickers in Kyle Schlicter -- though he inexplicably went 0 for 2 in Iowa's 3-point loss to Indiana (ouch) -- but the punt game has been atrocious. Iowa is 88th in the country, averaging only a 34 net, largely because Andy Fenstermaker is only getting 35 yards per kick. Don't expect much out of Breaston in this game.

Key Matchup: Michigan kickoff return coverage versus screwing up. It was bad at the start, good for a while, then started the PSU game with a return past midfield. Bad coverage! Bad!


Double digit spread at home == no kitten.

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...
  • Trey Stross turns out to be the next Inexplicably Great White Iowa Receiver.
  • Tate looks like his old self.
  • All the injury stuff was a smokescreen.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • Hart zips through their defense like he's totally healthy.
  • Breaston catches and runs and stuff.
  • We get more pit bull from the DL.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for You Lost To Indiana?, -1 for Half Your Team Is Screaming "It's Just A Flesh Wound", -1 for Cornerback From Nebraska, +1 for Tate Could Be Good And Stuff, +1 for It Would Be Just Like God To Make Us Lose This Game).

Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)

Loss will cause me to... concoct elaborate scenarios that land us in the championship game anyway after season-ending win @ OSU. Also: cry.

Win will cause me to... start month long, desperate search for reasonably-priced OSU tickets.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: This is really weird for me. Normally I figure any Michigan win over Kirk Ferentz will be a close, tough game (or a weird fluky thing with five Iowa turnovers or two Michigan blocked punts), but I can't really get my proper level of worry up when our opponent has only looked good against Purdue and just lost to Indiana. I have other reasons, too: their injury list looks like Michigan's from last year. They're down two wide receivers for this game and may be missing their best DL. Albert Young, Drew Tate, and Marcus Paschal are all banged up. Maybe at full strength with Good Tate at the helm this is a dangerous team... but they aren't and so they aren't.

We should run them over and hit a few deep balls a la every game that wasn't PSU. I still think Tate can hurt us with his mobility and ability to turn broken plays into big gains -- that "moxie" stuff -- but without the wide receivers or a healthy Young they aren't going to score all that much.

I hate doing this because I have a lot of respect for the Iowa program, but this game isn't going to be close.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • Breaston touchdown. I have to be right about this eventually.
  • Hart does turn out to have some sort of minor ding and we see a lot of Grady and Minor.
  • 31-13, Michigan.