Michigan Monday

Michigan Monday: Everybody Hates Kirk

Michigan went to Iowa this past weekend and did what most Top 5 teams fail to do — they actually won. The No. 4 Wolverines defeated the unranked Hawkeyes 27-14. Michigan is now 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. Iowa falls to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.

Under head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa had won five of their last six games against Top 5 teams at home. Good teams hate playing at Iowa, just ask the No. 3 Buckeyes in 2017, who lost 55-24 in an avalanche of tight end touchdowns.

Or ask the No. 2 Wolverines, who lost 14-13 in Iowa City in 2016. The Hawkeyes scored four times in that game and never drove longer than 52 yards to do it. They scored via safety, a 52-yard touchdown drive, a 36-yard field goal drive, and a 21-yard field goal drive to win it in the game’s last two minutes.

It was clear that Jim Harbaugh learned from that most-recent stop in the Hawkeye Torture Machine that if you simply don’t give the game away against Iowa, you’ve got a pretty good shot at walking out a winner.

This was a very conservative approach for the Michigan offense, which was the correct approach. Everything about this game was done properly by Harbaugh and his staff. Iowa needs help from opponents in order to win and as long as the Wolverines didn’t routinely punch themselves in the face, Harbaugh figured they’d be okay. And he was right.

Obviously, you never want to go “full Ferentz,” but the Wolverines did their best to out-Iowa Iowa in this one, and they came away with a win that was never in any real doubt.

Michigan has the ability to look fancier, but you don’t need to wear a suit and tie to the slaughterhouse.

[Not pictured: Blake Corum in a blood-stained apron.]

When Michigan Was On Offense

Michigan rushed for 172 yards on 42 attempts (4.1 ypc) and threw for 155 yards on 18-of-24 passing. They averaged 5.0 yards per play, which was surprisingly lower than Iowa’s 5.1 yards per play.

This was always going to be an interesting test for sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy. He doesn’t necessarily like being conservative, but his ability to not make mistakes was going to be more important than his ability to make plays. The good news for Michigan is that he didn’t turn it over, and he also made a play or two when the team needed it. He was able to recognize the times when it was okay to get a little aggressive and he took advantage of those opportunities.

One of those came mid-way through the third quarter on third-and-7 at the Iowa 12-yard line. McCarthy was flushed out of the pocket and he scrambled to his right and then threw back to his left a bit and found sophomore running back Donovan Edwards in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. McCarthy showed good speed and Edwards displayed great awareness in the back of the end zone on the scramble drill.

It was good to see McCarthy execute the game plan, but then also put his name on it here and there.

The Wolverines also did a nice job of incorporating receiver Ronnie Bell into the running game. He opened the game with a 16-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep. Michigan smartly showed several different sweep decoy looks before that play.

That entire first drive was well done. It was more up-tempo than most Michigan drives, which was a nice touch. I’m guessing it was a scripted drive because it was crisp and quick. It went 75 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:07 off the clock. It was exactly the kind of start an offense needs on the road.

McCarthy threw the ball downfield a couple of times in this game, but overthrew his only true “deep” throw. I believe that makes him 1-of-6 on deep shots the last two weeks.

Receiver Andrel Anthony caught a 29-yarder, which was good to see. The problem with Anthony — and this is more of a Michigan problem — is that you never really know who is going to contribute from week to week. Some may see that as a feature rather than a bug, but with a young quarterback, it would be good to see somebody step up and be consistent. (And not just tight end Luke Schoonmaker, who caught four passes for 45 yards.)

It’s difficult to really critique the passing game this week because it was only meant to be safe, not explosive. It did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Running back Blake Corum also did what he was supposed to do. He rushed for 133 yards on 29 carries and kept Michigan on schedule for the entire first half. His long carry of the day was just 20 yards, which was arguably the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. (I say “arguably” because the Wolverines scored 20 points in the first half and held Iowa to 14 for the game.)

Having Donovan Edwards back this week helped as well. He carried the ball five times for 29 yards and caught four passes for 21 yards. The Wolverines missed him last week. He provides security and production. Like if Jason Statham was also a successful financial advisor.

McCarthy still needs to be more careful with the football. He was credited with a fumble thanks to a backwards pass that he ended up throwing while getting hit. It’s his third fumble of the season. Michigan has recovered all three, but eventually the ball is going to bounce to an opponent. McCarthy has already tied his three fumbles from last season.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Michigan held Iowa to 35 yards rushing on 24 attempts, including 31 yards lost on four sacks. Even removing the lost yardage, the Hawkeye running backs rushed for just 66 yards on 20 attempts (3.3 ypc). Kaleb Johnson rushed for 32 yards on 12 attempts. He had the long run of the day for 12 yards, meaning that his other 11 rushes netted just 20 yards.

This was the third time in five games the Hawkeyes were held under 60 yards rushing.

Quarterback Spencer Petras completed 21-of-31 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown. Much of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the Wolverine defense had already been lulled to sleep by they very game they were playing in.

Petras completed 11-of-14 passes for 122 yards in the fourth quarter. It was much too little, much too late, and Michigan knew it. They just didn’t want to give up anything big, and they didn’t.

The Iowa offense really had nothing for the Wolverine defense, except for some success with the tight ends. But that’s Iowa’s bread and butter, so you have to expect that. Actually, Iowa’s bread and butter is running for no gain on first down. Their dessert is throwing to the tight ends on third down, hoping for a first down.

Defensive end Mike Morris had another good game, posting a pair of sacks. He also had a couple of QB hurries. He was very good last week and was good again in this one. If he can keep it up, this defense may have found their next All-Big Ten defensive end.

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This entire Hawkeye offense — led by Kirk Ferentz’s son Brian — is an incredible disappointment practically and schematically. It’s predictable. It’s football paint-by-numbers, but the painting that ends up being created is a black and gold tire fire.

Blake Corum has scored three more touchdowns than Iowa’s offense this year. The Hawkeyes are scoring 16.4 points per game this season. Corum is scoring 12.0 points per game. Hell, Michigan kicker Jake Moody is scoring 10 points per game this year.

At one point in the second half, one of the broadcasters said that “this is kitchen sink time” for the Iowa offense. Implying that now is the time to pull out all of the stops (which is also a sink reference now that I think about it), but there is no kitchen sink with this offense. Unfortunately for the players, this is a pond offense. It’s where they do their dishes and where they bathe. It’s also where they found the subject for their paint-by-numbers painting. It’s all the same water. All the same grime. All the same discarded rubber.

The Michigan Special Teams

The Wolverines rarely give opponents any kind of advantage in special teams. Even on Saturday, going against one of the nation’s best punters, it was Michigan punter Brad Robbins who had two 50-yard punts and a 35-yarder that was fair caught inside the 10-yard line. He did have a bit of a shank that only went 36 yards and led to an Iowa touchdown drive that made it 20-7 Wolverines, however.

The Michigan coverage unit allowed a 1-yard punt return and a 13-yard kickoff return.

Kicker Jake Moody hit from 44 and 35 yards out. He is now 8-of-10 on field goals this season.

What Does It All Mean

It means that Michigan not only executed their game plan to perfection, but also that they had a good game plan to execute.

After all, without the latter, the former may not matter.

They took care of the football and made Iowa work for everything they got. None of it was fancy and nobody cared. You don’t go to Iowa City for style points, you go there because of contractual obligations.

The Wolverines met those obligations, and then some.

It also means that even though this was a conservative game plan for the Michigan offense, it would have been nice to see them have more than one drive in the second half that lasted more than three plays.

Granted, one of those drives was a three-play touchdown drive, but three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half is the kind of disappearing act that can cost you a game.

This isn’t a complaint about the plan, but more the execution. Players see their head coach take his foot off the gas and they may respond in kind. Of course, since this offense was mainly just idling on the day, it shouldn’t have mattered. It didn’t hurt them this time, but it’s something that bares watching against an offense with running water.

The Road To The Game

Sept 3 — Michigan 51 – Colorado State 7
Sept 10 — Michigan 56 – Hawai’i 10
Sept 17 — Michigan 59 – Connecticut 0
Sept 24 — Michigan 34 – Maryland 27
Oct 1 — Michigan 27 – Iowa 14
Oct 8 — at Indiana
Oct 15 — Penn State
Oct 29 — Michigan State
Nov 5 — at Rutgers (Rivalry Game)
Nov 12 — Nebraska
Nov 19 — Illinois
Nov 26 — at Ohio State

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