By Tony Gerdeman
There's not much you can learn from a game against Iowa, unless you lose, then you've just learned that you are one of the five worst teams in America.
Michigan defeated Iowa 42-17 in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and the only reasons the game was that close were because of the Wolverines' disbelief that Iowa could be this bad, and then the subsequent pity because it was true.
Denard Robinson started the game at tailback, which was odd that Brady Hoke wouldn't give him the token start at quarterback on Senior Day.
Robinson carried the ball 13 times for 98 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards. He also lined up at quarterback, but never threw the ball because he was either still nursing his nerve injury, or Al Borges was sandbagging him. If Woody Hayes was still coaching, you know which theory he'd believe.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Urban Meyer said that he expects Robinson to throw the ball on Saturday.
"I know they have something waiting," he said. "So we have to be ready for it."
At this point, I'm not sure Michigan needs to entertain the idea of Robinson throwing the ball. Devin Gardner started and completed 18-23 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, Iowa's secondary was unbelievably terrible, but completions still call for accuracy, and Gardner showed it.
The biggest news coming out of this game was the injury to tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, who suffered a nasty lower leg injury and is out for the year. He carried the ball three times for 31 yards before his injury, and was on his way to his first 100-yard game of the year. Without him, Michigan lacks a big-play tailback who can run the ball out of the I-formation.
In fact, they may lack anybody who can run out of the I-formation. Thomas Rawls has carried the ball 27 times for 66 yards (2.4 ypc) over Michigan's last five games, which has pretty much shut off all cries for Rawls to get the ball any more.
But right now the combination of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson is quite formidable, and as equally unpredictable.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines put up 513 yards of total offense against what the Hawkeyes called their defense. The only negative play Michigan had all game came when they took a knee on the final snap.
Gardner found seven different receivers, led by Roy Roundtree (5-83) and Jeremy Gallon (5-133). It's strange, but it seems like the downfield magic that Denard Robinson had last year has re-emerged under Gardner.
Gardner can still have trouble when he rushes things, which the Buckeyes will need to make sure happens, but for the most part he's ridiculously calm, and when he does decide to run, or the play is called for him to run, he's been remarkable at picking up what is needed. He rushed for three touchdowns on Saturday, finishing with 37 yards on nine carries.
While Gardner has been fantastic, he has yet to face a decent defense. His numbers have come against Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois, who are a combined 6-15 in conference play. The Gophers actually have the 27th-ranked defense in the nation, but come on, they gave up 24 points to Iowa.
Ohio State provides that decent defense, though they can veer from one side of that line to the other in the span of a single drive. Not having Toussaint available makes the Wolverine offense a little more predictable. However, that predictability means more unpredictability with Robinson, if that makes sense. They will now need to involve him in more ways, which will tax the defense more.
So how is this Toussaint injury a good thing for the Buckeyes again? Al Borges will be forced to scrap the one thing that the Ohio State defense has shown that they can defend this season.
Robinson got the ball in a variety of ways on Saturday, including via a handoff which then turned into a pitch to the other tailback. There will be plenty of tricks that Michigan can pull out of these looks, especially if Robinson can actually throw the ball.
If he can't throw the ball, the Buckeyes will know pretty quickly and then have to change their plan of attack to one that calls for more aggression.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Iowa actually had some success on offense early, scoring 10 points in the first 21 minutes of the game. It would be another 37 minutes, however, before they'd score again.
Michigan held running back Mark Weisman to just 63 yards on 16 attempts (3.9 ypc). As a team, the Hawkeyes rushed for 128 yards on 34 carries (3.8 ypc), with a long carry of just 15 yards (by quarterback James Vandenberg).
Freshman weakside linebacker James Ross led the team with 12 tackles. He started in place of the injured Desmond Morgan, who is reportedly ready to come back this week. Will he resume his starting role after Ross has played well the last couple of weeks?
Fellow freshman linebacker Joe Bolden also had six tackles and two tackles for loss, proving that Iowa's "Here we are, come hit us" offense is an unquestioned failure.
It's telling that Michigan's top four tacklers were all linebackers. In other words, that was the top level of Iowa's passing and running game. They didn't go beyond the linebackers. It's really hideous to watch.
Michigan's defense is vulnerable when you make the linebackers work, but it's deadly when you keep everything in front of them. If an offense can get even with the linebackers, that offense is leaving the linebackers.
A good passing team can spread this team out and make plays. Heck, even Iowa did it a bit with their tight ends. Whether that describes Ohio State or not, however, depends on the day, the hour, the minute.It's certainly a way to attack this defense, but I don't know how much it applies to this Saturday.
Wisconsin's defense focused on keeping Buckeye quarterback (and Davey O'Brien Award Finalist) Braxton Miller from getting outside of the tackles, and Michigan has the type of disciplined defense that can do the same thing.
Much of Ohio State's running success comes with Miller running between the tackles, and if Michigan can stifle him the same way the Badgers did, things will get very interesting.
One thing that you can expect from the Buckeyes is more power football than you saw last week. Ohio State didn't run downhill nearly enough, and the middle of the Wolverines' defense will have to hold up, as they have for most of the season.
If the Michigan cornerbacks play too far off of the Buckeye receivers, Miller will throw quick passes for free yards. They will be more than happy to dink and dunk for as long as the Wolverines will let them.
I do wonder how Michigan will go about spying Miller, which teams have done with varying degrees of success ranging from "a good amount" to "no amount at all".
The Michigan Special Teams
Iowa only forced one punt against Michigan, and that was a 43-yarder for Will Hagerup, who has had a fantastic year, save for one or two games this season.
Dennis Norfleet returned two kicks for a total of just 33 yards. Jeremy Gallon had a punt return for zero yards. The Hawkeyes did get 117 yards on four returns from Jordan Cotton, which may not mean anything for the Buckeyes, since they haven't gotten anything from the kickoff return unit in about a month and a half.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan is now 8-3 with losses against a then-#1 team, a now-#1 team, and on the road at Nebraska when they lost Denard Robinson.
They never intended to try and beat Alabama, and they never should have lost to Notre Dame. I said at the time that had Robinson not been lost in Lincoln, that game felt like an eventual Michigan victory.
So yes, this is an 8-3 team, but they shouldn't be.
Ohio State is 11-0. Should they be?
But none of that matters because Saturday matters more.
Saturday is the one day a year when 9-3 would look a whole hell of a lot better than 11-1.
This game is far from the lock that many Buckeye fans want to believe it is.
The Road to the Big One
Sept 1 Alabama 41 - Michigan 14 (0-1)
Sept 8 Michigan 31 - Air Force 26 (1-1)
Sept 15 Michigan 63 - Massachusetts 13 (2-1)
Sept 22 Notre Dame 13 - Michigan 6 (2-2)
Sept 29 Bye
Oct 6 Michigan 44 - Purdue 13 (3-2, 1-0)
Oct 13 Michigan 45 - Illinois 0 (4-2, 2-0)
Oct 20 Michigan 12 - Michigan State 10 (5-2, 3-0)
Oct 27 Nebraska 23 - Michigan 9 (5-3, 3-1)
Nov 3 Michigan 35 - Minnesota 13 (6-3, 4-1)
Nov 10 Michigan 38 - Northwestern 31 (OT) (7-3, 5-1)
Nov 17 Michigan 42 - Iowa 17 (8-3, 6-1)
Nov 24 at Ohio State
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