116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The last time Iowa football was an underdog in a Big Ten game, it suffered a 42-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten championship game.
The Hawkeyes will again be facing Michigan Saturday and again be underdogs. Here are three keys for Iowa to have a better outcome at Kinnick Stadium than in last year’s game in Indianapolis:
Blake Corum vs. Iowa’s defense
Iowa’s rush defense has been a strength, and so has Michigan’s rushing attack.
The Hawkeyes have held opponents to just 2.2 yards per carry. Michigan’s top running back, Blake Corum, has averaged 7.5 yards per carry — fifth-best in the FBS.
That could make for quite the clash at Kinnick.
If Iowa limits Michigan on the ground, it’d put more pressure on quarterback J.J. McCarthy. The sophomore, who had a pair of fumbles last week against Maryland, will be making his first start in a road game.
But if Michigan can establish an effective ground game, it likely will open more opportunities for McCarthy and the Wolverines’ aerial attack.
The role Donovan Edwards plays as Michigan’s No. 2 running back also could be important. The 30 carries Corum took against Maryland made for his heaviest workload in his Michigan career and might not be sustainable.
Who wins the turnover margin?
Turnovers, like many other seasons in the Kirk Ferentz era, have been a key for Iowa’s success.
When the Hawkeyes have the advantage in turnovers in 2022, they’ve outscored their opponents, 54-10. When the turnover battle is tied or in the opponents’ favor, Iowa has only a 14-13 edge in points.
It’ll be especially important against No. 4 Michigan.
The Wolverines have averaged 7.6 yards per play, although lopsided wins against Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn will not necessarily be representative of what they’ll achieve in Big Ten play.
When Iowa has shocked Top 5 teams at Kinnick, turnovers have often played a key part in it. In the 2021 win over then-No. 4 Penn State, Iowa had a 4-1 edge in turnovers.
Can Iowa do more offensively on first and second downs?
Perhaps the most troublesome stat from Iowa’s win over Rutgers was the offense’s inability to convert on third down, going 1-of-9. (That’s worse than the odds of someone flipping a coin and getting tails each time.)
But Iowa’s third-down issues was largely a first- and second-down problem. Iowa’s average distance to go on third down was 9 yards.
Petras was 4-of-6 on third downs, but the 3.9 yards per third-down throw wasn’t good enough in the many third-and-long scenarios.
More manageable third downs will be critical for Iowa to have sustained drives.
Iowa has held the advantage in time of possession in only one of four games this season, and that was a 32-second advantage against South Dakota State.
If that trend continues against Michigan, a lot of pressure will be on Iowa’s defense as it takes on a well-rounded Wolverine offense.
What’s at stake
As a double-digit underdog to the No. 4 team in the country, Iowa has little to lose in Saturday’s game.
Few people would fault the Hawkeyes for not pulling off a Top 5 upset. If Iowa comes up short this season of the Big Ten West crown, it won’t be because of a loss to Michigan. Wisconsin already lost a crossover game to Ohio State, and Purdue lost earlier this year to Penn State.
A win vs. Michigan, as improbable as it is, would be a major boost for a team riddled with questions about its offense. The Hawkeyes have not received any votes in the AP poll since Week 1, but it would be hard not to rank a 4-1 Iowa squad with a win over the No. 4 team in the country.
If everything goes perfectly, Iowa is capable of pulling off an upset. But the odds of that happening following a 3-1 start that showed many imperfections are low.
Michigan 24, Iowa 10