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5 Keys To A Michigan Win In Iowa City

Michigan has to be better than it was against Maryland in order to beat Iowa in Iowa City.

Last Saturday, the No. 4 Michigan football team faced its first true challenge of the year as Big Ten play opened with a matchup against a then-undefeated Maryland team.

The Wolverines eventually took care of business, but the Terrapins hung around for much longer than many expected — shades of last year’s struggles with Rutgers in its conference opener. This game pointed out some definite and previously unseen holes in Michigan’s game, and now the question turns to whether it can adapt as Big Ten play continues.

And as Michigan heads into Iowa City, it will face a defensively stout Iowa team that is sure to put those adaptations to the test.

Here are the Wolverines’ keys to victory for this matchup:

1. Limit Offensive Mistakes

The Hawkeyes play an extremely tight and fundamentally sound defensive scheme, and thrive off of their opponent’s mistakes. And so far, this approach has garnered results. Through four games, Iowa has already logged five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Against Maryland, Michigan showed spates of poor decision making. Freshman running back CJ Stokes failed to protect the football, and fumbled on a drive where the Wolverines looked poised to put seven more on the board. And in the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy nearly threw a red zone interception, only bailed out by the Maryland defender catching the ball out of bounds.

If Michigan panics or succumbs to the suffocating Hawkeye pressure and makes mistakes, expect this game to come down to the wire.

2. JJ Plays To His Strengths

Despite looking downright mortal against Maryland, McCarthy still was productive on the field, going 18-of-26 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

McCarthy is the first to admit that his play was below his lofty expectations, and understands that adjustments are needed. His overthrows on the deep ball — which he attributed to his arm being ‘back to 110%’ — will need to be remedied.

But above all, McCarthy needs to be confident, and use his abilities to their fullest. Of course, ball security has been a lingering concern around the budding quarterback, but these qualms will surround anyone who throws the deep ball and scrambles as much as McCarthy does. 

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Still, he will need to learn to take the check-down and the yards when nothing is available, or scamper for safe gains. These realizations will come with experience, and Iowa might be the team that forces these changes in approach.

3. Offensive Line Continues Its Growth

Following up a Joe Moore Award-winning season is no easy task.

With a couple of the stalwarts that anchored the 2021 line gone, Michigan was forced to retool its offensive line for this season. The pick up of fifth-year transfer center Olu Oluwatimi from Virginia helped to smooth the transition, but through the first three games, the chemistry present from last year seems to be somewhat lacking. Through the first few games, the line has been in flux, as two significant contributors, senior Trevor Keegan and fifth-year Ryan Hayes, each missed some time with injury. At times, assignments were blown, and the line was overall inconsistent.

But against Maryland, the line looked significantly improved. They held their own against a Terrapins front which was by far the best they had seen, and repeatedly opened gaping holes for junior running back Blake Corum to take advantage of to the tune of 243 yards and two touchdowns.

Iowa will be another step up in competition. If the offensive line can still open gaps for Corum, give McCarthy adequate time to throw and make solid decisions against a top defensive line in the conference, then the offense will best be able to play to its potential.

4. Defense Shuts Down The Run

Iowa’s offense has not been a potent unit thus far, not scoring a touchdown until the third game of the season.

But when quarterback Spencer Petras has time and space to throw, he can still hit his targets, as seen by greatly increased offensive production in each of his last two outings. This newfound Hawkeye pass attack is heavily dependent on the space generated by running backs Leshon Williams and Kaleb Johnson. Shutting down the run game will severely limit Petras’ ability to do damage through the air, and keep Iowa one-dimensional.

5. Offensive Playmakers Continue To Step Up

A theme of the past two seasons of Michigan football has been a next man up mentality. And with senior tight end Erick All out with an undisclosed injury, senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker has stepped up. He reeled in seven catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, serving as McCarthy’s safety valve, but also showing his ability to make big plays.

Blake Corum also stepped up Saturday. The running back put together a Heisman-worthy performance, more than making up for McCarthy’s pedestrian weekend behind center. His 243 yards on 30 attempts and two touchdowns likely won’t be repeated soon against Big Ten competition, but his success will definitely give McCarthy a little more time come Saturday.

If this game is close late, a big play could be the difference maker. It doesn't need to be these two, but someone will need to step up and make the big play.