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November 16, 2012

Game Preview: Michigan vs. Iowa

Kirk Ferentz has bigger goals for his team than to simply play the role of "spoiler." But over the next two weeks, that's what Iowa essentially could be, while the Wolverines are clinging to the small hope of winning the Legends Division.

Top Storyline

Will he or won't he? Play. Denard Robinson. The face of the Michigan program the past three years. One of the most enthusiastic and adored players of all time. A dynamic quarterback … will he play?

Robinson has missed each of the past two games, and the entire second half of a third, with a nerve injury. He is due to receive an incredible standing ovation tomorrow when introduced as part of Senior Day festivities, but will he play?

Only Robinson, coach Brady Hoke and Michigan's medical staff know for sure, but it doesn't look promising. Still, the Hawkeyes cannot be as speculative, preparing like he could.

"Coach Hoke said it was a day‑to‑day thing, which we understand that totally, but from our standpoint I'm not sure, No. 16 is a heck of a football player," Ferentz said. "You can see it on film, but they all say he's a heck of a team leader and just a great young man, did a great job at the [Big Ten] banquet back in July.

"He's a really dynamic football player, a great team leader. But the other guy [Devin Gardner] has really jumped in there and done a great job, too, and you can see him improving with each time out.

"It's a little bit tricky because you have two preparations. They're not that much different but they're not the same, either, so it's two different preparations, and both of them are tough preparations."

Gardner will most likely start for the Wolverines tomorrow and play every meaningful snap. It's possible that Robinson opens the game under center and takes the first snap before heading to the sidelines. Possible he plays the last snap (ideally in victory formation). Or even possible he sees the field in a different capacity altogether, but barring an unforeseen miracle, it's not likely that he's the quarterback from quarters one through four.

Gardner doesn't make it any easier on Iowa, but the Hawkeyes' biggest issue presently is themselves. They've lost four in a row, lack confidence, and while a bowl is still a possibility - if they win their last two over Michigan and Nebraska - the Black and Gold could be forgiven if they just want to be done.

"Even in 2000, when they went 3-9, they were playing their best football in November, but this year it's much more a slow march to the end and you get the feeling they just want it to be over with," HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert said.

Ferentz, though, hasn't given up and refuses to let his players do the same.

"You know, we've lost four straight games, and we're 4-6 right now, and that's where we're at, but really the only thing I can worry about right now or be concerned with is beating Michigan," he said. "I'm getting them ready to play their best against Michigan."

Game Particulars
Kickoff: 12:01 p.m.
Radio-TV: ESPN will broadcast the game. The contest can be heard on the Michigan Sports Network (950 AM in the Detroit area, SiriusXM (channel 193) and Armed Services Radio (channel 113).
Coaches: Michigan: Brady Hoke (18-5, second season). Iowa: Kirk Ferentz (100-73, 14th season).
Iowa Notes: Kirk Ferentz' 14-year tenure is the fourth-longest among active FBS coaches … The Iowa roster includes six players from the state of Michigan: WR Kevonte Martin-Manley (Pontiac), DB Kevin Buford (Canton), DB Ruben Lile (Detroit), LB Laron Taylor (Detroit), DL Carl Davis (Sterling Heights) and TE Jake Duzey (Troy) … Michigan will be the first ranked opponent the Hawkeyes have played this year … Ferentz coached U-M assistant coach Jerry Montgomery, who was a four-year letterman at Iowa from 1998-2001.

By The Numbers

4 -- Opposing ball carriers that have rushed for 100 yards or more against Michigan this season after Northwestern's Venric Mark went for 104 yards in last week's game.

16 - Undefeated Novembers the Wolverines have experienced in 132 years; Michigan has started a four-game Nov. slate 2-0 32 times, closing out the month 2-0 just 50.0 percent of the time.

17 -- Consecutive games for the Wolverines without 300 yards passing, representing the second-longest drought since 2000; U-M went 32 straight games from 2008-10.

24-11 -- Record at The Big House for 13 fifth-year seniors that will play their final home game Saturday; the 10 fourth-year seniors are 22-6.

145 -- Receiving yards senior Roy Roundtree needs to break into the top 10 all time at Michigan in that category; he's currently 12th with 2,102 yards.

TheWolverine.com Game Week Poll Results

What was the best win from the group of seniors that will make their final appearance at The Big House Saturday?

2011 Notre Dame 35-31 - 23 percent
2011 Ohio State 40-34 - 64 percent
2011 Virginia Tech 23-20 - 4 percent
2012 Michigan State 12-10 - 5 percent
Other - 4 percent

482 votes

When Iowa has the Ball

The Hawkeyes are one of the most balanced teams in the country, throwing the ball 339 times and running it 331 times this season, yet that's not entirely a good thing since they've struggled moving the football on the ground in recent weeks, averaging just 78.0 yards and 2.5 yards per carry while completing 56.3 percent of their pass attempts during a four-game losing streak.

Senior quarterback James Vandenberg entered the season considered by many to be the top drop-back QB in the Big Ten, but after throwing for 232.5 yards per game a year ago, with 25 touchdowns and a 58.7 completion percentage, he's seen his numbers fall off the map - he has just five TD passes and is averaging 197.6 yards per game.

Vandenberg, and wide receivers Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley - both 6-0 or taller - are not being utilized properly, with a game plan that focuses on short, quick throws, and not the deep balls that Iowa excelled at a year ago. In fact, the Black and Gold rank 103rd nationally with only three completions of 40 yards or more.

The Hawkeye ground game is a mess thanks to a myriad of injuries that have knocked out starters Damon Bullock and Mark Weisman. Bullock missed four games earlier this season with a concussion while Weisman has missed each of the past two with a groin injury, and is not expected back this weekend.

Combined, the two have six 100-yard rushing efforts this year, including three in six Big Ten contests, and have accumulated 1,174 yards and 11 touchdowns on 249 carries (4.7 yards per rush), but with the offensive line breaking down, the Black and Gold have not been able to count on the ground attack over the past month.

If Iowa is to change its fortune this weekend, it has to hope that its balance keeps the Wolverines off-balanced, and that the missed tackles that plagued the Maize and Blue a week ago rear their ugly head again, allowing the Hawkeyes' receivers to turn five-yard patterns into the first downs and big plays needed to move the ball.

Certainly after last week, U-M will look to play with renewed discipline and better fundamentals. The Wolverines missed way too many tackles against the slippery likes of Kain Colter and Venric Mark, and while the Black and Gold don't have anyone, let alone a duo, as fast and as capable of the big play, they have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to take advantage of any Michigan miscues.

The good news for the Maize and Blue is that their continued weakness this season - containing the edge - is not an Iowa strength. The Hawkeyes are more of an between-the-tackles running team, but certainly they will attack the Michigan perimeter with short passes and screens to their wide receivers Saturday.

When Michigan has the Ball

A typical Iowa defense is strongest at the point of attack, with linebackers that clean up because their front four keep defenders off them. A typical Iowa defense is sound in the secondary. A typical Iowa defense gives even the best offenses fits because it grinds and grinds, and outworks and outworks, wearing down an offense.

This isn't a typical Iowa defense. However, this isn't a very good Michigan offensive line either, so the Hawkeyes could give the Wolverines fits, not because of their own strength but because of U-M's weakness up front.

Gardner has performed, probably, better than expected the past two games, offering the leadership and intangibles the Wolverines have needed, as well as the physical skills, like his passing, recognition in the pocket and ability to scramble. And the offense is adapting to him, becoming more of a pass-first team, and then going to the run.

Michigan had success with that game plan in the second half against Northwestern, and we should see more of it this weekend against Iowa. Redshirt junior tailback Fitz Toussaint can still be an important piece, but he has to have room and opportunity, and that's not coming easy to the Wolverines. However, there were greater possibilities late, when Northwestern started accounting for Gardner's arm before thinking run.

Three Hawkeye Players to Watch

Junior linebacker Christian Kirksey: One of eight players nationally with two defensive touchdown returns this season, the junior scored on a 68-yard interception against Minnesota and an 18-yard interception against Indiana. The 6-2, 220-pound ranks third among Hawkeye defenders this season with 76 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and has two pass breakups and four fumble recoveries.
in position to contend for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Sophomore tailback David Bullock: One of 10 true freshmen to see the field in 2011, Bullock was the most experienced tailback when the season began thanks to a myriad of unfortunate breaks to befall the Hawkeye ball carries. He responded to his challenge with 150 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut and had 280 yards in the first three games before suffering a concussion. The 6-0, 195-pounder missed four games but has tallied 233 yards and two scores on 70 touches in the past three contests.

Senior cornerback Micah Hyde: A three-year starter, Hyde briefly moved to safety for the 2011 season before transitioning back to his natural position at cornerback for the final 11 games in earning second-team all-conference honors. The 6-1, 190-pounder has always been one of the Big Ten's most dangerous playmakers, recording 27 pass breakups and seven interceptions during his career. This season, he has 12 PBUs and 67 total stops.

Prediction

Perhaps Gardner is due for a letdown performance, but that seems unlikely, especially against a Hawkeye defense that is struggling terribly over the past four games. As for U-M's defense - it's motivated after last week poor effort, and also matches up well with this Iowa offense. This one has all the makings of an easy victory, in which every Michigan senior gets to take at least one final snap in The Big House.

Score: Michigan 38, Iowa 10.
Against the Spread (-17.0): Cover.
Over/Under (46.5): Over.

Michael Spath's record this year: Result: 8-2; Against the Spread 4-6; Over/Under 7-3.


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