Fresh off their win against Ohio State, the Michigan Wolverines are heading to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this weekend to face the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. This will be Michigan’s first appearance in the Big Ten title game while it’ll be the second visit for the Hawkeyes, who lost to Michigan State in 2015. It’s been two seasons since Michigan and Iowa crossed paths with the Wolverines winning 10-3 at home during the 2019 season. For Saturday’s game, the Wolverines are 10.5-point favorites with the over/under set at 43.5 points.
Earlier in the season, Iowa was a top-5 team and looked like a CFP contender. Those hopes went out the window after back-to-back losses to Purdue and Wisconsin. But the Hawkeyes responded with four straight wins and got the help they needed to win the West Division. They now have a chance to win the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 and play in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Much like Michigan, the Hawkeyes have been led by their defense all season. Iowa is top-10 nationally in scoring defense, giving up 17.3 points per game. While only six of Iowa’s 12 opponents this year have been held to 17 points or less, no team has reached the 30-point threshold against the Hawkeyes. While the Iowa defense is able to control the line of scrimmage and contain the running game, the Hawkeyes don’t have elite pass rushers, totaling just 24 sacks in 12 games. However, the Iowa secondary is filled with playmakers who helped the Hawkeyes rack up 22 interceptions this season, as opposed to the Michigan defense, which has just seven picks.
On the other side of the ball, the Iowa offense has been a bit of a mess. Spencer Petras has had a tenuous hold on the starting quarterback job but is listed as the starter again after Alex Padilla started for the Hawkeyes last week. However, Petras has had an underwhelming season, only completing 58% of his passes with just nine touchdown passes and six interceptions. The Hawkeyes are also lacking standout receivers with tight end Sam LaPorta being the team’s leading receiver. Meanwhile, the Iowa rushing attack is averaging just 121 yards per game despite Tyler Goodson gaining over 1,100 yards and rushing for over 130 yards in three of his last four games. This explains why Iowa has averaged a modest 25.7 points per game on the season.
Needless to say, beating Ohio State last week was a big deal for Michigan. But the Wolverines need to refocus quickly. A win over Iowa would surely put Michigan into the College Football Playoff, which would be a huge step forward for Jim Harbaugh and the program.
The Michigan defense has been the team’s catalyst for success all season. That was on display last week when they held Ohio State to a season-low 27 points. The Wolverines dominated at the line of scrimmage, shutting down the run and creating constant pressure on OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud. The Michigan defense has two elite pass rushers in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who have combined for 23 sacks this season. With help from those two, the Wolverines have allowed just 17.2 points per game this season while holding nine of their 12 opponents to 18 points or less.
Offensively, the Wolverines were also close to perfect last week. They ran for nearly 300 yards with Hassan Haskins rushing for 169 yards and five touchdowns while Cade McNamara only had to attempt 19 passes. McNamara has done a good job of managing games this season, completing over 64% of his passes while only throwing three interceptions, including one early in last week’s game. But the Wolverines need to make sure that they can run the ball with Haskins and their other backs so that the game doesn’t come down to McNamara’s arm.
The Iowa offense, especially with questions at the quarterback position, is a huge concern heading into a conference championship game. But with the way the Hawkeyes play defense, it’s hard to believe they should be a double-digit underdog in this game. Michigan’s passing game is rather average and will be going against a strong secondary that can create turnovers if McNamara is careless. Ultimately, the Iowa defense should be able to keep the Hawkeyes within striking distance with the possibility of an upset not being that farfetched.
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