For better or worse, the trajectory of the Michigan football team’s season will permanently change on Saturday.
A loss against No. 14 Iowa (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) would further dampen the 19th-ranked Wolverines’ (3-1, 1-1) Big Ten hopes, while a win would give them positive momentum heading into a seven-game stretch with four ranked teams on the docket. Coming off a 52-0 blowout win over Rutgers, Michigan has the chance to further separate itself from its underwhelming performance in Madison while continuing to build on its offensive progress.
First-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis made the move from the box to the sideline last week, propelling U-M to its best showing of the season and bringing it a step closer to finding an identity. On the defensive side of the ball, Don Brown’s defense recorded its first shutout since 2016 behind a Herculean effort from junior defensive end Kwity Paye.
So, how can Michigan dispatch the Hawkeyes at home?
Expose Iowa’s banged-up secondary
If you liked what you saw in the Wolverines’ aerial attack against Rutgers, there’s a chance you’re in for a sequel this weekend. Still reeling from the loss of safety Amani Hooker to the NFL Draft, Iowa’s secondary has been hampered by injuries. Safety Kaevon Merriweather (foot) and cornerback Julius Brents (knee) appear ready to return against U-M, but there’ll be some rust.
With a healthy Donovan Peoples-Jones to go along with Nico Collins, Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell, don’t be surprised to see quarterback Shea Patterson pick on Merriweather and Brents early. If the rust is too much to shake off, Michigan could set the tempo by hitting a big play early.
Keep the pressure on Nate Stanley
If there was ever a week for Don Brown to dial up his most impactful blitzes, it’s this one. Beating Iowa would be one thing, but holding its offense — which ranks third in the Big Ten in total offense with 465 yards per game — to next to nothing would be a real statement. The Wolverines allowed at least 20 points to every opponent they faced this season until shutting out the Scarlet Knights. If they can build off last week’s performance against a top-15 team, it could be a sign of things to come.
In order to do so, Brown has to apply pressure to Hawkeyes’ quarterback Nate Stanley. The senior has completed 64.4-percent of his passes without throwing an interception so far this season, but Michigan has the chance to change that if the likes of Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Uche and Mike Danna can apply pressure off the edge. Iowa has a strong offensive line, but any pressure would give Stanley significantly less time to throw, leaving him more prone to turnovers and incompletions. If U-M gets a couple of sacks out of the strategy, that’s just gravy.
Unlike last year’s games against Wisconsin and Penn State when Michigan entered as a slight favorite at home against a ranked opponent, the Wolverines won’t blow Iowa out of the water. This one figures to be a one-possession game for most of the afternoon, but it’ll be U-M coming out on top.
Final: Michigan: 30, Iowa: 21