IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa has never defeated Michigan three straight times at Kinnick Stadium, so there’s one thing the Hawkeye football team can accomplish Saturday.
Here’s another: A fourth conference victory would lock up a winning record 12 months after the program limped its way to the finish line with six straight defeats and a 4-8 record.
So what is the key to an Iowa victory? Success at the line of scrimmage. This is anything but a novel concept. Coaches have talked about the importance of play in the trenches before facemasks were added to the helmet.
But there are some statistics that bear watching Saturday. Michigan’s offensive line has allowed 31 sacks this season, including 19 in the last three games. Quarterback Devin Gardner has been sidestepping pressure for weeks.
Iowa has 17 sacks this season. That’s only tied for eighth best in the Big Ten, but better than the 13 recorded all last season. None of those 13 sacks came against Gardner and Michigan in last November’s 42-17 loss in Ann Arbor.
To win, Iowa’s front four will have to get a push and keep Gardner from getting comfortable in the pocket or finding avenues to beat the Hawkeyes with his feet.
Defensive ends Drew Ott and Mike Hardy will have to contain the edges, and keep Gardner in the middle of the field where tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens can keep an eye on him.
“Fortunately, we’ve been fairly disciplined,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Ohio State got out on us. That was a tough one. … Gardner is extremely capable and very dangerous, and we’re going to have to be disciplined again.”
This formula for success continues on the other side of the ball. Iowa’s offensive line allowed 22 sacks a year ago. This season, that line has yielded just nine sacks which ties Michigan State for the fewest of any conference team. Only four of those sacks have come in Big Ten games.
The Wolverines’ offense has been inconsistent all season, but the defense has been solid. Michigan’s defense ranks fifth in the league in total defense and fourth in rushing defense, the Hawkeyes’ bread-and-butter. Only two opposing rushers have gained at least 100 yards.
If Iowa’s offensive line can continue to protect quarterback Jake Rudock and give the running backs room to move the chains, and if the defense can keep Gardner contained, Iowa will secure a victory worth more than the $100,000 bonus Ferentz receives for a bowl bid.
The Hawkeyes would improve their bowl status and take a step past overachieving.
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@ByRickBrown) Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football