Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Hawkeyes

Preview: Michigan at No 12 Iowa, October 10, 2009 – Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:

We’re here LIIIIVE! and it’s Saturday night in Iowa City as the unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes host the Michigan Wolverines for only their 7th prime time game in Kinnick Stadium! Folks, I’m really going to be doing the play-by-play in this one folks with my good buddy Kirk Herbstreit, so prepare yourself mentally for my over-sensationalization of the game setting, not to mention repeated statistical gaffes. Kirk? OK, uh, Herbstreit's grabbing another beer right now down at the concession stands, so uh… let's continue!

Well, the Hawkeyes really are 5-0 having already survived some tough contests on the road and at home this year. They’re led by one of the better scoring defensive units in the country with a number of starters back from last year, and giving up a measly 13.4 points per game. Norm Parker’s Hawkeye defense is currently ranked 10th in the land against the score and 32nd nationally in yards surrendered per game. All of this after vanquishing some pretty decent opponents like Arizona and Penn State.

Meanwhile, Michigan is 4-1 now, playing their second consecutive road game of the season here tonight. The Wolverines are coming off a late rally loss to in-state rival Michigan State. But I’ll tell you, this Michigan team can certainly display a powerful, balanced offensive attack when they want to, led by their star freshman quarterback from southern California, Tate Forcier. Michigan has proven over and over again that they can score quickly from anywhere on the field and with just about with anyone at the skilled positions. Seven different Wolverines have caught passing touchdowns this year while 6 different Michigan players have scored rushing touchdowns! Iowa’s great defense will somehow need to account for all of those possibilities. Michigan’s been banged up at running back and along the offensive line in recent weeks. The Wolverines’ high-rated rushing attack was successfully doused by the Spartans’ front seven last weekend, so Rich Rodriguez will look to re-establish that rushing game dominance once again here tonight against the Hawkeyes.

Offensively for Iowa they’re led by junior quarterback named Ricky Stanzi. Seven different Hawkeye receivers have caught touchdowns passes this year, so this kid obviously likes to spread it around and keep defenses honest. Despite Iowa’s huge offensive line advantage over their opponents, the Hawkeye rushing attack was a big question mark during the off-season following the graduation of star tailback Shon Greene and a serious knee injury to returning tailback Jewell Hampton. But so far Adam Robinson has answered the call for Iowa with 72 yards per game rushing, 4 TDs and a 4.6 ypc average. Look for Robinson and another fellow tailback Brandon Wegher to get a good number of carries and catches out of the Iowa backfield tonight.

Defensively, boy Michigan is really struggling right now. They’ve given up a lot of yardage on the ground and through the air over the last 4 games. However, they’ve done relatively well against the score, giving up just 23 points per game on average. Without forcing many three- and-outs, the Michigan defense has been spending an awful lot of time on the field this year. Against MSU the Wolverines held the offensively ball for only 20 minutes. It’s going to be a great one. Michigan and Iowa, as the Blackout falls upon us all right here in Kinnick Stadium!

What? You didn’t have the courtesy to bring ME a beer?

Damn you, Kirk!

This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1. Michigan leads this series 40-10-4 all-time against Iowa on the gridiron. Six of those ten Michigan defeats occurred after the Hayden Fry era began at Iowa in 1979.

2. A victory over Iowa almost certainly secures bowl eligibility and a .500 season for Michigan in 2009 following that disappointing 3-9 record in 2008.

3. A victory over Iowa also keeps Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes alive and increases the team confidence for upcoming road games against Illinois and Wisconsin.

4. A loss to Iowa on Saturday night probably eliminates Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes altogether and likely postpones any chance that the Wolverines will return to the Top 25 for several more weeks.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Of Your Face:

Tyler Sash: Iowa's Very Own Interception Machine

1. Safety Tyler Sash

If we wanted to know why Iowa is 5-0 right now, we’d look no further then the performance of the Hawkeye defense. Iowa has 8 starters back from 2008 including the follow list of menacing defensemen: DEs Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, DTs Christian Ballard, and Paul Krug, LBs Pat Angerer, AJ Edds and Jeremiah Hunter, not to mention star DB Shaun Prater. But when we look at the Iowa defensive statistics, we immediately notice something else: Kirk Ferentz and Norm Parker have a group that creates a lot of turnovers: 10 interceptions and 4 recovered fumbles after only 5 games. And for some crazy reason, a sophomore safety named Tyler Sash seems to be closely associated with many of them. Sash kind of surprised people last year with 5 interceptions and 147 yards in returns back in 2008. It’s 2009 and the guy already has matched the 5 interceptions and 117 yards in returns. Since Michigan runs a read spread option attack, much of the plays Michigan calls will depend on the position of Iowa’s safeties pre-snap. Tyler Sash defies space and time by being omnipresent all over the field making nice wrapping tackles in open space. It should surprise no one that Sash already leads Hawkeyes football team in solo tackles with 21. Most opponents avoid throwing to Sash’s side of the field.

Unless something changes significantly going into Saturday night’s game, Michigan is going to try and run on this Iowa defense immediately. Except Iowa’s defense is better than Michigan State’s, is currently No. 3 against the run in the Big Ten, and pretty much devoured read spread option attacks of ISU, PSU and Arizona over the last several weeks. If Michigan fails to achieve when running, they’ll turn to the air. This is where Mr. Sash arrives on the scene with a full squirt bottle of Smile Remover.

2.) The Entire Iowa Offensive Line

Iowa OT Bryan Bulaga: "Mongo pancake Prince Kwateng!
Him former leading tackler for Northwestern!"

Yeah, you knew it was coming. Hell, we all did way back in August. These Hawkeye offensive lineman are living, breathing case studies in hugeness. Overall this group is quite experienced and talented: Bryan Bulaga (6-6, 312), Kyle Calloway (6-7, 315), Dace Richardson (6-6, 305), Julian Vandervelde (6-3, 300) and C Rafael Eubanks (6-3, 280). Iowa’s offensive line has worked through some injuries so far this year, but most will be back at full health for the Michigan game. Iowa’s rushing game is only ranked 7th in the Big Ten so far, averaging just 140 yards per game, but with this group back to full health, that stat is destined to be killed. Tailbacks Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher are young but have played remarkably well. Michigan’s defensive line is tiny compared to these behemoths, so expect plenty of trucking by the 3rd and 4th quarter of this one. Since Michigan’s rushing defense is currently as horrible as can be, giving up 153 yards per game (ranked 9th in the Big Ten), well, let’s just say it’s only mid-week and Iowa’s offensive line and running backs are collectively licking their chops for kickoff to finally arrive.

3.) Junior Quarterback Ricky Stanzi
Not Chuck Long. Ricku Stanzi IS Ricky Stanzi.

In my 2009 Big Ten preview, I really thought something ridiculous would happen in the absence of tailback Shon Greene this fall. With no heir apparent replacement at running back for Greene, I believed that Stanzi, now a junior, would step up and become the second coming of Chuck Long. Stanzi has not played like Chuck Long the last 5 games, as his 59% completion percentage, 8 TDs and discouraging 7 interceptions clearly attest. But he does an more than adequate job of leading the Iowa's offense up and down the field. He has a seemingly endless lineup of talented receiver targets like WRs Marvin McNutt (12 rec, 242 yrds, 2 TDs) and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (8 rec, 138 yards, 1 TD). This week star Iowa TE Tony Moeaki returns from injury. Moeaki is big, reliable and a key part of the Iowa offensive attack in play action. The tailbacks too have done a very good job as receivers for Stanzi out of the backfield. The important thing about Ricky Stanzi is that he seems to improve his play in key football games, like the road game at Penn State and Arizona game. Without significant pressure, Stanzi will have a glorious evening against Michigan’s youthful secondary and linebackers.

Iowa's Tight End Tony Moeaki. Coming to an end zone near you.

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
By now reality has probably sunk in for most Michigan football fans everywhere. This uncovered reality is that the 2009 Michigan Wolverine football team cannot stop passing offenses. It cannot stop any kind of power run offense either. It can’t really even slow opponents down a little bit. The one thing Greg Robinson’s defense has somehow managed to achieve, rather inexplicably, is force opponent field goals in the redzone. It’s unknown whether such fortune or ability will continue into Michigan’s Big Ten schedule. To understand the gravity of the situation on defense for Michigan this year, all anyone has to do is review how Michigan’s defense played the last two games against Indiana and MSU, and substitute all of those opponent field goals for touchdowns.

Do that now.


Yeah, me too. Except I couldn't stop crying.

Well, for what it’s worth, Iowa is 6 of 9 this year on field goals, and isn’t exactly scoring a lot of points these days (10th in scoring in B10 with 25 points per game). They haven’t really had to.

The truth is that ever since the Notre Dame game, Michigan opponents have been able to march up and down the football field fancy free. Through the air or on the ground, it doesn’t really make a difference. (If Rich Rodriguez had a preference, he’d probably want opponents to shred his defense by throwing the ball because at least that way his own offense could get the ball back a little quicker.)

Michigan's Defensive End Brandon Graham

If you didn’t like Michigan’s chances against MSU’s passing attack last week on the road, you’ll probably like the Wolverines’ prospects against Iowa even less. Unlike Michigan State, Iowa actually has something resembling an NFL offensive line that has done a good job in pass protection. Similar to MSU, the Hawkeyes have a decent quarterback and a talented cast of receivers and backs. Those backs may not be the fastest on the planet, but they’re do break tackles, block well, and serve as excellent receivers on screen passes. Unless Michigan’s own front four gets regular pressure on quarterback Ricky Stanzi in this game, Iowa will be able to run and pass roughshod over Michigan all night long. Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, Ryan van Bergen and Craig Roh are on notice. They must get pressure or the risk increases that this game gets out of hand fast.

Michigan’s linebackers and secondary were ripped apart last week by a number of screen pass plays to the tailback (MSU’s Glenn Winston). As luck would have it, this just happens to be one of Iowa’s favorite chapters in their offensive playbook – a long repertoire of screen passes to tailbacks, play action downfield posts and flies, as well as quick dump passes to the tight ends. The Michigan linebackers and secondary have received a lot of well-earned criticism so far this year. They’ll need tighten up coverage of Iowa’s WRs and TE’s and show good containment around the edge. Stevie Brown, Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton must show significant improvement in reading play action, taking on much bigger blockers, and find ways to disrupt the routes of Iowa’s big tight ends.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
Last week Michigan tried their bread-and-butter read spread option rushing attack against their opponent’s main strength (MSU’s run defense) and failed in embarrassing fashion with just 28 rushing yards to show for it. Why the epic fail to run the ball against Michigan State? Well, we’re all led to believe that because Rimington Trophy candidate David Molk is out for another 3 weeks at center, and despite all calls to UM’s improved OL depth and experience, the Wolverines offensive line and backfield has suddenly become out of sync. Star running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor were both completely ineffective last week. So Rich Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee will probably introduce some new plays into the offense this week to try and turbo-charge the running game Saturday night. If Iowa’s vaunted defense has shown one weakness at all, it would be their rushing defense (giving up over 122 yds/game). Even so, the Hawkeyes have given up zero (0) touchdowns on the ground this year.

Midichlorians! Yeah Bayy-Bee!

If Michigan’s OL problems aren’t corrected, then they’ll turn to the pass. Can Michigan’s offensive line can protect it’s quarterback long enough to make reads and get the ball away safely? The answer is a qualifed “yes” only because of the midichlorians and waterbug DNA coursing through the cells of Michigan’s starting quarterback Tate Forcier. Iowa’s front seven is truly outstanding, and while the secondary may have given up significant points and the yardage, they possess interception king Tyler Sash at safety and welcome back star Shaun Prater at the cornerback position this week. Forcier will need to step it up a notch because this Iowa defense has dealt with mobile quarterbacks pretty well this year, holding Penn State’s Darryl Clark to just 19 yards rushing and intercepting him 3 times. With the injury at center and the reduced production of the Wolverine offensive line the last two games, Michigan’s pass protection is probably not going to be much better than last week. Rodriguez and Magee must implement passing plays with easy safety valves for Forcier to dish the ball off more quickly when under pressure and take advantage of what will surely be zealous over pursuit by Iowa

Michigan’s offensive players are probably much faster than those faced by the Iowa defense at any time this year. Michigan must exploit speed mismatches wherever they can in this football game.

The Last Time:
On October 21, 2006 Michigan launched a vicious defense and a relentless off-tackle zone rushing attack featuring senior tailback Mike Hart that eventually wore Iowa down in second half of the game, allowing Michigan to separate from a 3-3 tie early in the 3rd quarter to win handily 20-6.

Iowa’s last victory over Michigan was in 2003 in Iowa City when Hawkeye tailback Fred Russell, an Inkster, Michigan native, ran for 110 yards against the Wolverines, setting up three Nate Kaeding’s field goals to lead 12th ranked Hawkeyes (4-1) to a 30-27 victory over 4th ranked Michigan (4-1).

Dammit, why is it that these Iowa-Michigan games have so many damn field goals in them? (BTW, don’t ever watch the 1981 and 1985 games. Ever.)

This will be Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first game ever against Iowa.

Iowa’s head coach Kirk Ferentz is 2-3 all-time versus Michigan since 1999.

What to Expect
First, this Iowa team is better than Michigan State or Notre Dame.

Way better.

Iowa has been playing lights out, blackout, defense against superior opposition and every kind of offensive attack this season, including both pass- and run-centric spread teams and more pro-style offenses. Consider, for example, that Iowa’s opponents this year have a cumulative W-L record of 15-8 compared to the rather unimpressive 11-13 record of Michigan’s last 5 opponents. Michigan hasn’t played anyone, while Iowa clearly has.

Second, on paper at least, Michigan appears to be a much more explosive offensive football team than Iowa because they’re faster, they can score a lot of points very quickly. Michigan has a multitude of scoring weapons to chose from, not to mention their very own Ace of Spades player, freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. Iowa’s defense must find a way to control Forcier’s escape routes and laser-guided passing abilities for a full 60 minutes. This is way easier said than done. But if Iowa can somehow pull that off, (whatever “that” is), then Rodriguez’s spread offense is almost surely dead in the water. Michigan’s offensive line is in disarray and Iowa’s defensive front four is ready to setup camp in Michigan’s backfield. They should be able to reach Forcier frequently in this game, unless he manages to escape or improve the quickness of his release.

Motorhead - Tate Forcier
Pushing up the ante, I know you've got to see me,
Read 'em and weep, the dead man's hand again,
I see it in your eyes, take one look and die,
The only thing you see, you know it's gonna be...

Tate Force-ee-yay!

Tate Force-ee-yay!

Third, Iowa’s offensive assignment is straight-forward and will be fairly easy. They will attack the Michigan corners and linebackers relentlessly with a mixed bag of what they do best: off-tackle and off-end dives with play action, then blast the Wolverines with plenty of screen passes in the flat and over the middle. They’ sprinkle in a few deep Z outs and flies to McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos for good fun. True, Ricky Stanzi has had bouts of Jekyll and Hyde over the last few weeks, overthrowing wide open receivers or just throwing perfect strikes into the arms of competitors. But if the last 5 games are any indication, Michigan’s secondary and linebackers will be easily confused with play action, and will have few answers for Iowa’s short, tight-end targeted passing game. By halftime Iowa will likely have what I’ll call “an uncomfortable lead” over the Wolverines.

In the second half, Michigan’s defense will adjust and tighten up as it usually does and perhaps force a turnover and a few three-and-out’s.

Michigan’s offense line will continue to search for some semblance of rhythm against the Iowa front lines and linebackers, but without significant success. This lack of productivity in the running game will foist more pressure upon young Forcier and the Michigan receivers to delivery late game heroics. The efforts will be valiant, but will likely go horribly wrong in the end, i.e. Interception City.

Michigan ends up 4-2, Iowa will be 6-0. And yet, somehow it’s going to be alright. The Wolverines will re-group, beat Delaware State, Illinois, Purdue and probably upset one of the three other opponents: Penn State, Wisconsin or Ohio State for almost certain bowl eligibility.

WCA Prediction: Iowa 27, Michigan 19


Anonymous said...

Just want to point out that your love fest of Iowa is based off of one game only where Iowa beat Penn State who has played no one yet.
Iowa almost lost to two DII opponents. I'm not saying they aren't great, I'm just not sold yet...

Markus said...

I don't love Iowa , but I do respect what they've done considering that they lost half their offensive output (Shon Greene) and their leading tackler (Kroul) to graduation last year. I used to think Iowa had no business at all being unbeaten, but they've defeated two pretty good football teams, PSU and Arizona, by decisive margins and, like Michigan, escaped the rest. They almost screwed up against UNI, and struggled last week too vs. Ark. State (looking ahead to Michigan and coming off big PSU win), but I get Iowa.

What I don't get is Michigan right now. UM loses one starter (a sophomore, Molk) at center and the entire rushing attack doesn't just drop off, it falls to pieces?
That's what we're seeing.
Michigan ran for 242, 240, 380 with Molk in the lineup. He goes down and UM's running 149 (IU) and 29 (MSU) respectively. That's a pretty damning trend. His health is equally as important as Forcier's right now. Where's the OL depth that UM was supposed to have built up since 2008? Such promises were way overstated.

The other trend that worries me (and I didn't mention it in my preview post) is the turnovers: 6 UM turnovers in the last 3 games.
Now Iowa comes along with the best takeaway stats in the Big Ten. Another thing that could end badly.

Like the other previews, I try to tell it how it is. To me Iowa is superior defensively than any team Michigan has faced this year. And offensively, Iowa doesn't need to do much to move the ball tons of yards and score points.

Can Michigan beat Iowa? Absolutely. But it's exactly like last week. Michigan's offensive greatest success is balanced running and passing, forcing opponents to account for all weapons. When the running game fails, all the pressure is placed on Forcier.

As far as defense goes, Michigan is actually getting a little better. Stanzi has not been pressured at all this year. And Michigan's front 4 will have difficulty bringing pressure against that big Iowa OL.

But we'll see.

Hopefully seniors Mooseman and Minor will prove me completely and utterly wrong.


Timmmaay said...

Hart was a junior in '06

Don said...

It's amazing to me that we can struggle mightily at home for a last-minute victory against Indiana, and play like crap for 55 minutes against Sparty, yet so many people are confidently predicting a victory on the road against a team that is light years better than the Hoosiers and more physical than MSU.

I just hope Tate finishes the game in one piece. We're going to need him to get to 6-6 and beyond.