Iowa Football: Unit Grades From Win Over Michigan

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Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Grades for each unit on Iowa for their performance against Michigan

Iowa football has been looking for a game that reminds everyone that they went 12-0 in the regular season a year ago. In an up-and-down season that has featured a lot of bad offense and some bad defense, the Hawkeyes showed up against Michigan in a big way.

In a game that Iowa had to play near perfect, they did just that. There were a couple of questionable play calls and plays by Iowa, but that’s expected from any team. The fact remains that Iowa looked better than Michigan on Saturday, and were deserving of the win.

All three units contributed to the win on Saturday, a feat that has been non-existent for Iowa this season. It showed up at the right time, though. Iowa hadn’t played a complete game since early in the season, but still somewhat struggled against mediocre competition.

Either way, Iowa came out on top in a game that not even the biggest Iowa fans could have expected. Michigan didn’t play their best football, but that doesn’t take away from Iowa’s great game or the win. Iowa made Michigan uncomfortable and simply out-played them for 60 minutes. Iowa deserved to win, and they did.

Here’s a look at how each unit performed on Saturday for the Hawkeyes.

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Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: B+

Against a team averaging 48 points per game, many expected that the Hawkeyes realistically needed to score at least 30 points to have a shot. Their offense failed to score 15 points, yet it’s still one of their best games of the season.

Of course, coming out on top helps forget C.J. Beathard‘s 8-of-19 passing for 66 yards, a touchdown and interception, and the three sacks Michigan had on Beathard. Although, even if Iowa lost 13-11, the Hawkeyes’ offense had one of its better games of the season. Remember that Michigan still owns the top scoring defense in the nation.

The Hawkeyes only averaged 3.5 yards per carry against Michigan, although that’s the third best rushing average against the Wolverines this season. Plus, Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr combined to rush for 169 yards on 37 carries — 4.6 yards per carry. Besides the beautiful open field moves Wadley had, he and Daniels showed their power and speed, while the offensive line gave them holes to run through.

A week after getting beat up by Penn State, Iowa’s physical offensive line gave Michigan problems. Sure, the Wolverines had three sacks on Beathard and a couple of other solid hits, but for the most part Beathard stayed upright. The offensive line gave him time in the pocket to look down field and scramble if needed.

Sure, Beathard had a near game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter while being hit when he threw. Although, giving him time to deliver a ball that far down field is something Iowa’s offensive line hasn’t been able to do all season. When it comes down to it, giving up three sacks to a team who averages 3.8 sacks per game is impressive.

No, 14 points isn’t great and it almost wasn’t enough. Although, Iowa picked up a first down on seven drives compared to five three-and-outs, and gained valuable yards when they needed it the most. In a game where no one expected Iowa to move the ball, they did.

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Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Defense: A+

Michigan owned the third best scoring offense in the nation coming into the game. The Wolverines averaged 48 points per game and had only failed to score 40 points twice. In fact, the Wolverines only scored fewer than 30 points once — against Wisconsin who owns the sixth best scoring defense.

Not to mention a week ago, Penn State ran and threw all over Iowa. The Hawkeyes gave up 41 points and gave up 599 total yards. Simply put, it didn’t instill any confidence that Iowa would be able to stop the Wolverines even a little.

Although, just like the rest of the season, Iowa’s defense came through and kept the Hawkeyes in the game. It seemed like Iowa’s defense would need to score a defensive touchdown for Iowa to win, but other than that, you couldn’t ask for anything else from them.

They held Michigan to three points in the first quarter and 10 points in the first half. Not to mention stuffing De’Veon Smith in the end zone for a safety to score Iowa’s first points. It helped ignite Iowa’s offense and gave a spark to the whole team.

Although, the most impressive feat of the night is that Iowa held Michigan scoreless for the whole third quarter. The Wolverines didn’t score on five straight possessions, and only got a field goal on the sixth possession because of a questionable roughing the center penalty on a punt. It is only the fourth quarter this season Michigan has not scored any points.

It’s hard to pinpoint one group that stood out for Iowa on defense. The defensive line sacked Wilton Speight twice and shut down the running game. Michigan averaged a measly 2.8 yards per carry, while holding De’Veon Smith to 2.3 yards per rush. They played the option well when Jabrill Peppers came in the game and made him a non-factor.

The secondary, which has struggled this year at times, also played their best game of the season. True freshman Manny Rugamba picked off Speight late in the fourth quarter to give Iowa life again, and they held Amara Darboh to one catch. Speight missed a couple of open receivers down field, but for the most part Iowa’s safeties kept receivers in front of them and didn’t give up a devastating big play.

Iowa had to win with defense, and that’s what they did. Michigan had no momentum on offense all game, and any hope of building some was ruined by costly turnovers or a safety.

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Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams/Coaching: A-

Special teams is often the forgotten unit but is very important in pulling upsets. Of course, Keith Duncan‘s 33-yard walk-off field goal excuses Miguel Recinos missed 46-yard field goal, the struggles that Desmond King had as a returner or Ron Coluzzi‘s awkward trip and fall on a failed fake punt.

Although, Coluzzi’s 47 yards per punt makes up for it. Plus, he pinned Michigan inside the 10 three times and inside the 20 four times. Field position is always important to win, and Iowa won it easily with Coluzzi’s amazing punts.

Also, on the opening kickoff of the second half, Iowa forced Khalid Hill to fumble. Starting the half off on a strong note is important, and Iowa did just that. Brady Ross came up with the fumble and Iowa scored a field goal to take an 11-10 lead, while Iowa essentially started both halves with the ball.

For the coaching, the play calling is unlike anything we have seen this year. Sure, they did their characteristic runs up the middle on third and short, but Iowa also took shots down field. Iowa didn’t try to just hang around, they played to win.

That became evident by Iowa faking a punt in the first quarter. Sure, Coluzzi tripped and didn’t get it, but the aggressiveness was great to see. Iowa needed to take chances to win, and they did.

Also, Iowa went for it on fourth down three times. It helped Iowa win the time of possession battle 32:45 to 27:15 and showed that they knew they needed to take chances to win. Besides, C.J. Beathard’s quarterback sneaks have become almost automatic at this point.

It’s easy to say that Iowa’s coaching was good after a win and terrible after a loss. Although, it’s evident how much more focused Iowa was against Michigan than against Penn State, and I applaud Kirk Ferentz for realizing the chance of an upset were slim, so he took chances and didn’t play conservative.

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