ANN ARBOR, MICH. – One game.
One all-or-nothing Iowa football game is what it has come down to.
Beat Michigan for a fourth season in a row at 11 a.m., and Hawkeye hope for a .500 regular season continues. Lose, and it’s onto the next sport for fans who wanted more out of a football team that played in the BCS Orange Bowl after the 2009 season.
“We know what we have to do,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said, “now we just have to go do it.”
Hitchens will start Saturday after being benched during the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s loss against Purdue. He was one of many defenders having tackling trouble.
“I’ve still got to improve,’’ said Hitchens, the conference’s top tackler with an average of 11.4 a game. “It was a tough day. I made some mistakes, and I’ll learn from it. I’m accountable, just like every other player on the team.’’
And this just in . . . .Iowa’s seniors have never lost against Michigan, which means the Wolverines’ seniors are 0-3 against the Hawkeyes.
“Yes, for sure,” Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson said last July when Big Ten players met with reporters in Chicago. “For some reason, there’s always something about that game.
“We’ve gone into that game prepared well, but for some reason, we just haven’t been able to beat them.”
The Wolverines have been so good that their longest current losing streak against anyone is three games. Joining the Hawkeyes on that list are Penn State and Southern California.
“I have not beaten Iowa yet, and I know just for selfish reasons, it would be a huge motivation for me,” defensive end Craig Roh said this week. “I never want to go not beating a team in my career, and that’s something that we control — that this whole team controls.
“It’s really exciting to have another opportunity to go out there and play the way we know how to play.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke even mentioned it to his players after last Saturday’s overtime victory against Northwestern.
“It really has motivated us,” receiver Roy Roundtree told reporters this week. “Coach Hoke told us that Sunday. I’ve been here and know I haven’t beaten Iowa, and it’s something I’ve got to get off my shoulder and play my tail off.”
Iowa leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley has a motivational card, too, although he says he’s not playing it. He is from Pontiac, which is 50 miles from where he will be running routes Saturday – against a team that did not offer him a scholarship.
“It’s not really motivation for me,” he said. “I don’t take it personally. I grew up a Michigan fan, dreaming of playing in the Big House one day. I just look forward to having some fun and playing hard.’’
WHO: Iowa (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) at No. 23 Michigan (7-3, 5-1).
LINE: Off the board.
SERIES: Michigan leads 40-13-4.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Wolverines need a win to keep their fading chances alive of winning their first Big Ten title since 2004. To get into the conference championship game, Michigan needs to avoid an upset at home against the Hawkeyes, to win at Ohio State next week and has to hope Nebraska loses a game. The Hawkeyes have to win their next two games — after losing four straight — to earn a bowl bid.
KEY MATCHUP: Iowa RB Damon Bullock against Michigan’s front seven. With RB Mark Weisman likely out because of a leg injury, the Hawkeyes need Bullock to run as he did against Northwestern — with 107 yards on 22 carries — not like he did last week with just 43 yards rushing on 23 attempts against Purdue.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Iowa: QB James Vandenberg. The senior has fewer touchdown passes (five) than interceptions (six) and hasn’t thrown for more than one score despite averaging nearly 34 passing attempts. If the Hawkeyes are going to pull off an upset, Vandenberg has to make plays through the air as he did last year with 25 TD passes and seven interceptions.
Michigan: QB Devin Gardner. In two straight starts in place of injured Denard Robinson (right elbow), Gardner has connected on 28 of 47 passes for 520 yards with four TDs and two interceptions. The junior has also run for 68 yards and three scores. Gardner has helped Michigan out a lot this season and added optimism for next season with him getting experience under center.
FACTS & FIGURES
— The Wolverines, who have 23 seniors, are playing their home finale before wrapping up the regular season against on the road against the rival Buckeyes.
— Iowa has lost four straight for the first time since 2007 — the last season the proud program failed to qualify for a bowl.
— Michigan coach Brady Hoke will only say Robinson is “day to day,” because of nerve damage in his right elbow.
— The Hawkeyes will play against a ranked opponent for the first time this season on Saturday.
— The Wolverines have lost three straight to Iowa — their longest skid in a series that dates to 1900 — and five of the last eight matchups.
— Associated Press
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football