This weekend the Hawkeyes travel to Michigan and hope to end a four game losing skid. They will be welcomed by an angry group of Wolverines that have never won a game against the Hawkeyes in their career. We go Behind Enemy Lines with Michael Spath from TheWolverine.com to find out if Denard Robinson will play this weekend and much more about the Michigan squad.
1. Iowa has won three in a row in this series for the first time in school history. Has this been a topic this week and how much do some of the upperclassmen want to get this win?
SPATH: It actually did get some play this week. Senior defensive end Craig Roh mentioned it at Monday's press conference, noting how he never wants to go an entire career without beating someone, and thanks to wins over Ohio State last year and Michigan State this year, there are only two teams left to beat - Iowa and Penn State - for this senior class. Michigan doesn't play PSU so nothing the team can do about that, but Iowa's three-game winning streak is serving as motivation.
I think that will really help the Wolverines this week actually because with Ohio State looming and all this talk about whether Nebraska will lose (not looking good now) and how that affects U-M's ability to play for the Big Ten title, it would be easy to overlook the Hawkeyes. But with that losing streak in their mind, the Maize and Blue are going to be focused and determined this week.
2. What the status of Denard Robinson heading into this weekend? Do you think he will play? How has Devin Gardner done moving back to quarterback?
SPATH: Our best sources indicate that his injury could keep him out of the rest of the regular season, but Michigan doesn't want to announce that and has gone with the 'day-to-day' response. And for good reason - if a team thinks it might have to prepare for Robinson, but also has to prepare for Gardner, that splits their defensive game planning all week.
Personally, I don't think he plays like the starter (in terms of the majority of snaps), but I could see him starting and taking the first snap, handing it off and then exiting the game. I could see him playing late if Michigan was leading comfortably too just so he can get the ovation he so richly deserves. But in terms of the actual quarterback, I expect it to be Gardner.
He's done very well in two starts. He's only completed 59.6 percent of his passes but it feels closer to 70.0 percent. He's shown outstanding pocket presence and has made a lot of big plays with his arm and his feet. A bit ironic in that we waited four years for Robinson to be as potent as he's capable of as a scrambler but he never became that (he's a great runner, but on designed QB runs), yet that's what Gardner is. He tucks it and runs when there is no one open, and scored two TDs that way Saturday.
Gardner hasn't been perfect, but most Michigan fans (and the coaches and team) have the confidence in him that he can lead U-M to a win over Iowa and Ohio State."
3. Talk about some of the other key players on offense for the Wolverines and who Iowa fans should be watching.
SPATH: Redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon leads this team in receiving and is targeted most often, usually on short stuff that he can turn into a big play - like a 71-yard touchdown that began as a screen against Illinois - but he also has 71-, 47- and 42-yard grabs that were deep bombs.
Fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree is coming on late, with five receptions for 139 yards a week ago, including the 53-yarder in the final 15 seconds that set up a game-tying field goal.
Freshman tight end Devin Funchess only has 13 grabs but four have gone for touchdowns, and he's a tough matchup at 6-4, 229 pounds.
Finally, redshirt junior running back Fitz Toussaint has disappointed overall this season with only 483 yards and five scores, but he's been the victim of really poor play along the offensive line. Last week was his best this year, and he seems to have figured out how to make the most out of the small holes he is getting."
4. Michigan defense has been up and down at times this year. How have they played and who are the key performers?
SPATH: The defense started slowly in the first two games against Alabama and Air Force, but from that point on, the unit was terrific and seemed to be making a case that it was the Big Ten's best defense going into the game against Northwestern. Where U-M struggled was where it struggled early this season - against the option, especially in keeping outside containment. The Wildcats just outflanked the Wolverines and picked up a ton of big yards on the edge. Couple that then with NU's surprising success on third down, and Michigan really got taken to task.
That said, in overtime, when the Wolverines had to have a stop they came up big, dropping Northwestern for a loss on 3rd-and-1 and coming up with a tackle on 4th-and-2 to earn the win.
Redshirt sophomore SAM linebacker Jake Ryan is Michigan's best defender. He has 12 tackles for loss and leads the team with 69 stops. He has an uncanny knack for making the big play when U-M needs it, and has tremendous closing speed, especially from the backside.
Fifth-year senior MIKE Kenny Demens has really come on, and one could argue he's been Michigan's most consistent defender over the past month. He's the one that made the tackles on third and fourth down in overtime, just showing an incredible nose for the ball.
Up front, no one is really much of a threat. Senior defensive end Craig Roh has four sacks but Michigan just doesn't generate the consistent QB pressure its coordinator wants to see.
No one has more than two interceptions in the secondary, and this group overall hasn't made a lot of big plays, but it doesn't get burned deep either and is a sure tackling group. The corners play really aggressive, disrupting routes with their physical play, and the safeties seem to keep everything in front of them. It's not sexy, but it works as U-M is the No. 1 pass defense in the country.
5. Talk about Michigan's special teams. How has the kicking and return game been this year?
SPATH: Kicking game has been outstanding. Junior Brendan Gibbons has made 14 of 16 field goals this year (87.5 percent), including 11 in a row. He had the game-winning FG against MSU and the game-tying FG against Northwestern a week ago so pressure doesn't bother him (he also made the game-winner in overtime of the Sugar Bowl last year).
Junior punter Will Hagerup is averaging 44.7 yards and sophomore Matt Wile handles pooch punts and has been very good.
Their coverage is decent. Could be better, but hasn't given up a real long one this year on kickoffs or punts. Return game is OK. Freshman Dennis Norfleet handles kickoffs and averages 23.7 yards with a long of 38. He's had some incredible moments where he reverses field but he hasn't taken one back past the 50 this year. Gallon handles the punt returns and had a huge 23-yarder a week ago, but he seems too content to let the ball bounce, playing it safe as opposed to coming up and catching it and risking a muff.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial