IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chaos came to Iowa on Saturday, too.
A 33-yard field goal from Iowa’s Keith Duncan as time expired stunningly felled mighty unbeaten No. 3 Michigan, giving the Hawkeyes a 14–13 win to add to an apocalyptic day of college football.
Here are three immediate thoughts on what transpired at Kinnick Stadium:
1. Michigan fans will complain about the facemask penalty, but they should focus on Michigan’s feeble offense
Yes, Iowa’s game-winning drive was abetted by a very questionable facemask penalty on a punt that set up the Hawkeyes at the 36-yard line with a minute and a half to play. That’s a distraction from the fundamental problem that undid the Wolverines on Saturday: horrid offense. Michigan’s game notes touted an attack that came into the Iowa game ranked in the national top 20 in 11 different categories. The yardage totals from the Wolverines’ previous four games? In order: 600, 561, 436, 660.
This was not one of those nights. Michigan amassed a season-low 201 yards against Iowa. It’s next-lowest total was 349 against Wisconsin on Oct 1. After a second-quarter touchdown that seemed to stave off any possibility of forthcoming chaos, Michigan’s next five true offensive possessions started with a safety and then proceeded into four consecutive three-and-outs. Officially, the fumble on the second-half kickoff counts as a possession, but obviously that doesn’t include a play from scrimmage. At the end of the third quarter, the Wolverines were averaging a middling 3.6 yards per play, a more middling 3.0 yards per rush and quarterback Wilton Speight was just 9 of 20 passing on the night.
And Michigan needed a bit of a gift to do much of anything. While the offense started rolling a bit to begin the fourth quarter, the Wolverines nevertheless sputtered to a punt near midfield. And then officials dropped a roughing-the-center flag on Iowa, which resuscitated the drive and allowed the Wolverines to chug to a 51-yard, go-ahead field goal by Kenneth Allen.
Any marginally good vibes from that were erased when Jehu Chesson had a critical third-and-nine pass wrestled away from him for an interception by Iowa true freshman Manny Rugamba with 3:43 left, putting Michigan right back in grave danger. The potentially game-sealing interception by Channing Stribling with 1:54 to play seemingly got that offense off the hook. Then that offense, with a chance to ice the game, responded with a three-and-out, which led to a punt, which led to the facemask penalty, which…well, you see where we’re going here.
So we will spend a couple weeks debating how reliable this offense is against top-shelf defenses; Michigan dropped 45 points on Colorado and 49 on Penn State but scraped together just 14 against Wisconsin and 13 against Iowa. Which attack shows up at Ohio State in a couple weeks is one of the most consequential questions of the year.
2. Iowa slow-played a College Football Playoff contender to death
Now, we didn’t think we’d be saying that early, when Hawkeyes punter Ron Coluzzi started running for a first down, tripped over himself and then somersaulted to the ground. That’s entertainment, right there.
But Iowa collected itself and nearly concocted the perfect plan to squeeze the life out of a Big Ten favorite. While the Hawkeyes averaged just 3.3 yards per play en route to a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter, they ran up time of possession (28:37 to 16:23 entering the final period) and piled up 127 rushing yards, just enough to keep things moving.
The defense was feral enough all night: eight tackles for loss in total and that Rugamba interception that gave his team a chance to win. Meanwhile, Coluzzi collected himself to average 49.8 yards per punt, dropping three inside the 20-yard line and helping his side play the field-position game. It was all masterfully tedious.
And it was almost a low-volume high-wire act undone by two mistakes: That odd roughing-the-snapper penalty and quarterback C.J. Beathard’s interception on what appeared to be the last-gasp possession. But the defense came up with the stop, and the offense milked the clock down to Duncan’s final kick with a milquetoast quarterback draw on third down even ensuring that the field goal would be the final play.
3. Is The Game still The Game?
Oh, the Big Ten East chaos. A Michigan loss was awful for Michigan and Ohio State, which now has another reason to loathe the Team From Up North. Even if the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines on Nov. 26, it’s conceivable they will lose the division tiebreaker to…Penn State, which will slide into the Big Ten title game. The Nittany Lions survived a tough test from Indiana on Saturday and will be favored in their two remaining conference games at Rutgers and against Michigan State.
Michigan, of course, can’t afford any kind of loss at all the next two weekends. Not after The Kick That Shook Kinnick.