While many people are already talking about the upcoming Ohio State vs Michigan game that takes place next week, I would advise fans to slow down and focus on the Wolverines current match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Last week the Wolverines were able to escape a near defeat by Northwestern in overtime and while the victory was much-needed, there is no reason to dwell on it.
Don’t get me wrong, the victory against Northwestern was much-needed but they also need another win this Saturday against Iowa, if they have any hopes of salvaging their season. Some may doubt that the Wolverines can win this game but I believe they can. However, they will only win if the follow certain steps.
Offensively, as always it begins with the offensive line. They must give quarterback Devin Gardner time in the pocket and that won’t be easy since the Iowa defense already has 17 sacks so far this season. The offensive line must also open up holes for the running game because that will be another x-factor in this game.
When it comes to the running game, they must continue where they left off against Northwestern last week. While the running game wasn’t amazing, it was still decent and help to offer balance and they will need that in this game. I made the suggestion that the Wolverines try other running backs and last week they actually did it since running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was out with a concussion. I honestly feel the Wolverines should once again shake things up at the running back position and use Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith who were both solid last week. If the opportunity presents itself, I would suggest probably throwing Justice Hayes, Thomas Rawls or even Dennis Norfleet in at times. Running the ball as I mentioned earlier offers balance, more importantly it helps to take the pressure of Gardner and helps the Wolverines to move the chains more consistently. While the running game doesn’t need to be dominant, it does need to be solid in this game.
As far as the passing game goes, again it starts with the offensive line giving Gardner time in the pocket. Iowa is an overall good defensive team this year limiting their opponents to 18 points per game and 319 yards per game. When it comes to Gardner, I will stick with what I said last week, offensive coordinator Al Borges must stick to short and intermediate passes. While I hope the offensive line steps up, there is no guarantee, so it would be smart to get the ball out of Gardner’s hands quickly which limits his chances of taking hits or turning the ball over. While there is no doubt that Gardner has good arm strength, he doesn’t receive enough time in the pocket for those deep threats to get open. Plus the Wolverines have two good receiving options in Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess and both do a good job of gaining yards after the catch. So again I look for Al Borges to call short and intermediate passes such as slants, draws, curls even screens and let the receivers make a play after the catch. If this scheme is successful, it will hopefully open up some deep threat opportunities but only if the short and intermediate scheme is successful.
Most importantly, the Wolverines must not turn the ball over. Last week against Northwestern, Gardner gave the Northwestern defenders multiple opportunities to make interceptions, but luckily for Gardner they weren’t able make good on those opportunities. However, Iowa will make plays when given the opportunity, so Gardner must take what the defense gives him and not force anything whether he is being pressured or not.
Defensively, is where I think the game will be won, which why it is even more important that the Wolverines step up defensively in this game. I mentioned earlier that Iowa is a good defensive team this year, however they aren’t that good of an offensive team only averaging around 26 points a game. So if the Wolverines defense steps up in this game it could be huge.
The main area I am watching closely is the Wolverines front seven. I expect Iowa to run the ball a lot in this game, mainly because it helps them to control the clock and keep the Wolverine offense off of the field. Running backs Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri are definitely an underrated group in the Big Ten right now and the Wolverines would be smart to not underestimate them. However if the Wolverines defensive line which is led by Frank Clark is able to control the line of scrimmage, I think they will be able to contain the running game. By controlling the line of scrimmage, the Wolverines will open up opportunities for those tenacious linebackers Jake Ryan, James Ross III, Desmond Morgan and Cameron Gordon to make plays in the backfield which will be needed in this game. Most importantly the Wolverines as a whole must wrap and finish tackles, each Iowa running back varying from Weisman, Bullock and Canzeri can break tackles easily and the last thing the Wolverines need to do is give up big plays on the ground.
Now just because Iowa has a legit running game doesn’t mean they should forget about the passing game. Quarterback Jake Rudock isn’t the next Tom Brady but he can still hurt the Wolverines. I have said many times this season, that the Wolverines secondary has a tendency to allow the average quarterback to look like a Heisman candidate, they can’t afford to do that in this game. The Wolverine defensive line must be prepared to create some form of pressure because they can’t afford to give Rudock much time in the pocket. If they are able to create some form of pressure, Rudock will more than likely make a mistake if that happens, the Wolverine secondary must be prepared to make a play on the ball. Mainly this secondary needs to do the little things well starting with good open field tackling. It may seem small but when you consider Michigan’s tackling issues this year it can make a big difference. Mainly this secondary needs to bend but not break, if they can do that the Wolverines should be able to come away with a win.
While many fans are disappointed at the Wolverines this season, remember they still have a chance to salvage a solid season if they win this game. There is no need to think about Ohio State right now, they need to focus on Iowa and if they follow the steps above they should be able to come out with a tough victory because you can bet that Iowa won’t go down without a fight.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com