(Before It's News)
There are a few things that you can pretty much expect Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. First, it will probably be louder than usual, seeing as fans will have had all morning, afternoon and most of the evening to tailgate.
Second, the Hawkeye faithful will be geared up in either gold or black, depending on which section they’re sitting in. Giving the stadium the appearance of stripes, as is customary for their bigger home games.
Lastly, the Michigan football team will exit their pink road locker room at Kinnick and run out of the tunnel unfazed by any of it. To them, this is nothing more than another “championship game”.
This Iowa defense comes into this game allowing opposing offenses 402 yards per game on average. On the ground they’ve given up an average of 176 yards. The Michigan rushing attack averages 251 yards per game. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to foresee which way this war of attrition up front will most likely go.
However, the Iowa front seven isn’t without talent. Jaleel Johnson is a solid defensive lineman (38 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) and linebacker Josey Jewell leads the Big Ten in tackles with 87. 2015 All- American defensive back Desmond King returned for his senior season, but hasn’t had as much to do with the drop off in the quilty of the Iowa defense from last season. He will certainly have his hands full this Saturday with the Michigan receivers though.
The Hawkeyes started the 2016 season ranked seventeenth in the AP poll. They’d lost some talented players from the previous year, but were expected to make a serious run at winning the Big Ten West Division again. Senior quarterback CJ Beathard was coming off an impressive season and all signs pointed towards Iowa repeating as division champs. Five wins and four losses later (3-3 in the Big Ten), that likelihood is looking slim to none.
To be fair, it can be pretty tough sledding the next year when your two best O-lineman run out of eligibility. They are also without their top receiver this season, Matt VandeBerg, who’s out for the season with a broken foot. One of the only bright spots for the Hawkeye offense in 2016 has been its running back play. Senior LeShun Daniels is averaging 5 yards per carry and has 6 TDs, but it’s been the play of junior back Akrum Wadley that’s kept this offense plodding along. He’s gained 22 more yards than Daniels on 30 less carries and leads the team in points scored with 60.
However, it’s going to be tough for either of them to pick up many yards at all if Beathard and the passing game struggle, which I expect to be the case against the Michigan secondary.
The Wolverine defense comes into Iowa City allowing opposing offenses just an average of 10.7 points per game. When you’re holding teams to a 107 yard rushing average and you have two lock-down corners, points are gonna be pretty hard to come by (opponents have just 3 rushing TDs all year). The secondary is forcing just over 1 INT per game, and with the pressure the front seven’s going to get on Beathard, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them improve that average.
Wilton Speight is coming off a career day against Maryland last week, throwing for the eighth most passing yards in a game in Michigan history. The weekly improvement that he’s displayed has this offense hitting a formidable stride coming down the home stretch of the season. They’re averaging 497 yards of total offense per game, and have absolutely destroyed teams 152-10 in the second quarter of games.
I’m expecting more of the same Saturday night. With Desmond King probably keying on Amara Darboh most of the game, look for Jehu Chesson to be open often, and for Speight to find him for some huge pick ups.
I don’t think that special teams will play a huge factor in this game, but I will say that the more Kenny Allen forces touchbacks, the better. Desmond King is a dangerous return man on kick-offs.