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November 18, 2013

U-M player notebook: Wolverines gearing up for Iowa

Some teams are more difficult to prepare for than others - and everyone who plays Iowa knows exactly what they're going to get.

That doesn't make the actual game any easier, though. Because although there isn't a lot of glitz and glamour in the Hawkeyes' scheme, they do what they do extremely well.

"From last year, I know what this game is all about," sophomore outside linebacker James Ross III said. "It's about being real physical, not too flashy. Those guys are really physical up front, and you know they're going to run the power, the stretch, all that type of stuff. You have to be physical. We have been doing a good job of that lately, and our d-line has been stepping up. We're going to get into the film and see what they got."

Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, the longest tenured-coach in the Big Ten has run the same scheme for a long time.

The offense become a little more diverse in recent years, since former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis joined the staff - but the Wolverines still know what they're going to get.

The Hawkeyes ranked 25th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 130.0 yards per game. The majority of the work is going to former fullback-turned-running-back Mark Weisman, who emerged from a pile of injuries and transfers to claim the starting job last year.

Weisman is averaging 77.0 yards per game.

The Iowa defense will provide the same type of challenge for the Michigan defense. The Hawkeyes have a base 4-3 that everything is going to be run out of. They're focused on strong line play that opens things up for a corps of disciplined linebackers to clean up behind them.

"They're not a flashy defense," fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewans said. "They're not a flashy offense. They're not a flashy team. But they get the job done. They have a great defense, a great offensive line and a good offense. We have our work cut out for us. It's playing through the X's and O's. It's going to be easier to target, because they don't move a lot. It's our will vs. their will.

They're tough. They have a great linebacker system. They work together. I don't know if there's a specific big-time guy on their team, but they all work together as a work, and you want that over one guy doing a great job all the time."

Note: Lewan Sees Improvement

The Wolverines finished with 139 rushing yards in Saturday's 27-19 triple-overtime win at Northwestern.

Great? Far from it. But it's a huge step in the right direction after finishing in the red two straight weeks with a combined negative-69 rushing yards in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska.

"Better targeting, getting on guys, pushing the line of scrimmage, doing things and offensive line should do," Lewan said. "Obviously, Devin got sacked a bunch again. You can't have that. You have to be better in pass protection. You have to protect your quarterback."

After a few rough starts, the young guys in the middle - redshirt freshman right guard Erik Magnuson, redshirt sophomore center Graham Glasgow and true freshman left guard Kyle Bosch - played a much better game overall.

"I'm really proud," Lewan said. "I know this year hasn't been the year we wanted, especially on the offensive line, but all the experience that the guys that have played one start here, two starts there, is going to do so much for them in the future. I'm excited for them. I'm excited for them a year down the road, two years down the road, when they're the offensive line they want to be."

And although offensive line coach Darrell Funk has received plenty of grief from the Michigan fan base this season, he is precisely the reason the Wolverines are showing improvement, Lewan said.

"A lot of heat has come on him for the offensive line not playing well, but Coach Funk is one of the best coaches I have ever had, personally," Lewan said. "He sticks on those guys, and he knows how to coach them. He knows how to get them fired up, when to get on them and when not to get on them. That is really starting to come together. You just have to play consistent.

"One thing about Coach Funk is he's really easy to be around. He's really easy to talk to. He's kind of like a father figure to a lot of us, especially me. Spending so much time with him and getting to know him and his method of coaching, it's not just yelling at you the whole time. He knows the guys he can yell at, and he knows the guys he needs to talk to and coach. Everyone has different personalities. You need to get yelled at sometimes. Other guys just need to be talked to. That's part of it. He's been in the business for a long time. He knows what he's doing. All these coaches are great and they're doing a great job."

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