Michigan (9-1, 6-1) lost their first game of the season this past Saturday, falling 14-13 in a night game at Iowa (6-4, 4-3) on a 33-yard field goal with no time remaining.
Michigan led this one 10-0 and had the ball midway through the second quarter, but a safety by the Hawkeyes put a two-spot on the board for Iowa. They then added a touchdown and a missed two-point conversion before the half to make it 10-8.
The Hawkeyes then added a field goal on their first drive of the second half to take an 11-10 lead. They held that lead until the fourth quarter when Michigan kicker Kenny Allen drilled a 51-yard field goal, making it 13-11 Wolverines.
The fourth quarter was then a fairly wild affair, ending with a 33-yard Keith Duncan field goal to give Iowa the upset win.
It was the second time in Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan career that the Wolverines lost after having a double-digit lead. Harbaugh’s record at Michigan now moves to 19-4, with the three non-Ohio State losses coming by a combined nine points.
The loss doesn’t actually mean anything for Michigan provided they win their next two games, and then a third. However, it does eliminate their chances of losing a close one at Ohio State and still making the playoff. Now their room for error is gone.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Michigan managed just 201 yards of total offense, rushing for 98 yards and throwing for 103 yards. This was against an Iowa defense that allowed 599 yards to Penn State just one week earlier.
The Nittany Lions rushed for 359 yards in that game, but Michigan does not have Penn State’s running back talent. The Wolverines were instead lead by freshman Chris Evans, who rushed for 52 yards on eight carries. He did have a team-high 12-yard pickup, which is very telling.
It was again De’Veon Smith who received the bulk of the carries. I’ve sort of stopped my harping on Smith and his lack of explosion or vision because it became repetitive and started to feel like piling on. He is an incredibly hard runner, but that hard running only netted 28 yards on 12 carries.
Only two of Smith’s carries went for more than four yards, and those went for six and seven yards, respectively.
What good is a hard runner when running is just too hard for him?
Ty Isaac got one carry in the game and scored a 7-yard touchdown. He was never really seen again after that. Karan Higdon carried it three times for a loss of three yards. Two of his carries went for fewer yards than you just sitting there reading this right now.
Linebacker Jabrill Peppers carried the ball four times for 11 yards as he continues to be less and less productive on offense. In seven non-Rutgers conference games, Peppers has 16 carries for 63 yards (3.9 ypc) and two receptions for three yards. That’s 18 touches for an average of 3.7 yards per touch. While he is explosive, most of his plays on offense this season have been duds. And for a linebacker, he doesn’t really break many tackles.
That being said, I still expect him to break a bit of a long one against Ohio State.
I see Jim Harbaugh’s insistence on staying with De’Veon Smith a lot like his decision to start Wilton Speight at the beginning of the season — he knows what he’s going to get with Smith, which is effort, security, and toughness. It was clearly the correct decision with Speight, but can the same be said of Smith? You’re not going to get a guy who can make two guys miss in the box like Evans can, but you are going to get a guy that can get you two yards on first and 10, and then another yard on second and eight.
Smith was also tackled in the end zone for a safety. Harbaugh gave him the ball at the 2-yard line, which is basically the signal that he wanted to get some work for his free kick unit rather than try to go 98 yards for the score.
Okay, it’s feeling like piling on again. If you want to read anymore of my thoughts on De’Veon Smith, you can go back and check probably every Michigan Monday from the past three seasons.
The passing game was even worse than the running game, as Wilton Speight completed just 11-of-26 passes for 103 yards with an interception. He was sacked twice and came away from the game with an injured shoulder. The severity of that injury is being debated between a pair of reports that it is season-ending and Jim Harbaugh who says nothing is decided.
When the Wolverines aren’t hitting the deep ball — as they weren’t in this game — their passing game looks a whole lot less impressive, which Buckeye fans can certainly relate to. And when Speight is getting pressured, his accuracy wanes considerably.
Amara Darboh had just one reception for five yards, and Jehu Chesson caught two passes for 30 yards. Speight missed a couple of deep balls, but the Hawkeye secondary did a pretty good job on the both of them.
Tight end Jake Butt led the team with four receptions for 39 yards, so even he was pretty well contained.
The offensive line had issues with Iowa’s defensive line. Right guard Kyle Kalis repeatedly had difficulty slowing down Hawkeye defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. Johnson finished with a team-high nine tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Iowa always has active defensive tackles and Kalis made sure they had plenty to do on Saturday.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Michigan did more than enough on defense to win this game. They held Iowa to just 230 yards of total offense and just 3.4 yards per play.
The Hawkeyes rushed for 164 yards on 49 attempts (3.3 ypc) and threw for 66 yards on 8-of-19 passing with a touchdown and an interception. It was as dominating as any of their other outings, except for the slight struggles they had in stopping running backs Leshun Daniels Jr. (a Buckeye legacy) and Akrum Wadley.
Daniels rushed for 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 ypc), which is nothing great, but he did have a couple of nice bursts early in the game to basically say that Iowa had come to play and they weren’t going to quit just because there were some winged helmets in the building.
The difference in this game, however, was Wadley. He rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries (5.0 ypc) and caught five passes for 52 yards. He had 167 of Iowa’s 230 yards of offense, and most of those yards were absolutely necessary.
Wadley really stepped up in the second half, making Michigan defenders miss left and right, and then when Wadley would go left or right on wide plays, they’d either miss there or not be able to catch up to him. Wadley was simply too quick for Michigan’s linebackers — even Jabrill Peppers.
Watching Daniels and Wadley, it was easy to envision what Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel would look like against this defense, and it is clear that Michigan still has some work to do to get ready for what they’ll see on November 26.
The Wolverines pass defense was again outstanding. This was the third time in 2016 that they have held an opponent under 100 yards passing, and the fifth time they’ve held an opponent to single-digit completions.
Michigan was led in tackles by safety Dymonte Thomas (10), and linebackers Ben Gedeon (9) Mike McCray (7). Peppers finished with five tackles, with Iowa gaining an average of 8.6 yards on those five plays.
I’ve said this before of Peppers, but it really goes for all of the linebackers. The further they get from the line of scrimmage, the less effective they become. That’s common for linebackers, but with McCray and Gedeon it’s a little more glaring. Coverage is not their friend, and they can be stretched pretty badly with some speedy east-west action.
It is going to be fascinating to see what defensive coordinator Don Brown does with them against Ohio State. Iowa did a great job of getting them in pass coverage against Wadley. When Peppers isn’t blitzing, he will be a spy on passing downs. He and J.T. Barrett will have more than a few possible meetings on the run.
As Ohio State and Darron Lee found out last year, there are ways to scheme a walk-out linebacker away from the action. That happened in this game as well. If you don’t want Peppers involved, then send a slot receiver out and run the ball to the opposite side. That’s a good plan on a toss play or a quick screen, as he would not have the ability to chase it down or knife through.
You don’t have to run away from him to run the ball, however.
The Michigan defensive line did well enough to hold Iowa to 3.3 yards per carry, but any time a team can run the ball 49 times on you, they’re having a pretty good day. The 49 carries are the most this season. This was the third time they’ve allowed at least 40 carries in a game this season (46 vs. UCF and 42 vs. MSU).
The Michigan Special Teams
This game had plenty of special teams intrigue, including yet another roughing the center call that ended in an impressive 51-yard field goal by Kenny Allen to give Michigan a 13-11 lead in the fourth quarter.
That was the good, but there was plenty of bad. Like Michigan running into a punter on consecutive snaps, giving Iowa a first down. That drive ended in a missed field goal for the Hawkeyes, so no harm, no foul.
Where the was some harm and foul was on Michigan’s final punt. Linebacker Mike McCray was called for a very questionable facemask on the return, putting the ball at Michigan’s 36-yard line with 1:23 remaining and Iowa trailing by just two points.
Then later while Iowa was lining up for the game-winning field goal, the Wolverines sent out just 10 players to attempt to block the kick. Fortunately for Michigan, Jim Harbaugh called a timeout to ice the kicker. Except when they came back out, they were once again just 10 strong trying to save the game.
Oh, Khalid Hill also fumbled a pooched kickoff return.
Isn’t it crazy what can happen to your special teams on the road at night in a hostile environment?
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan is still right in line with what they’ve always wanted, but that line gets considerably harder to follow if Wilton Speight is in fact out for the season as reported by MGoBlog and the Detroit Free Press.
We can get to what that means at a later day, but it certainly doesn’t mean anything good.
It also means that Jim Harbaugh can no longer trust his running game, and I’m not sure he didn’t feel that way well before this game. The Wolverines had two third-and-twos and two third-and-ones. They threw on both of the third-and-twos and ran a toss play on the first third-and-one, which went to Karan Higdon for a loss of six. On the second third-and-one they went with the old standby of fullback Khalid Hill up the middle for the first down.
The most concerning aspect of the running game, however, was that they were unable to run out the clock when they got the ball back with 1:53 to play in the game. They started that possession with a 1-yard run by Smith up the middle. Not wanting to do that again, they brought in Peppers to try to do something more productive. He managed the same yard as Smith. This left Michigan with a third-and-eight. If they pick up the first down, they win. If they don’t, they punt it back to an offense that had scored exactly nine points in the previous 58 minutes.
So, rather than run the ball and force Iowa to use their final timeout, Jim Harbaugh decided to throw the ball with an already-injured Speight. The pass fell incomplete and the possession took all of 20 seconds off of the clock.
I didn’t have a problem throwing the ball in that situation. The running game had let him down to that point, so he was putting the game in his leader’s hands. Unfortunately, on the pass, Speight was hit again right on the same left shoulder that was hurting him previously.
If Michigan could run out a clock, that final play would have never happened. And now the Wolverines are in position where they may have to rely on the running game simply because they’re breaking in a new quarterback.
At least John O’Korn has gotten snaps this season and received plenty of experience at Houston. He’s a plug and play guy, but there’s a reason he wasn’t starting.
We’ve seen other teams pull together following the loss of a quarterback and it’s certainly possible it could happen here as well. Without a dynamic running game, however, don’t expect it.
The Road to The Game
Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3
Michigan 51 – UCF 14
Michigan 45 – Colorado 28
Michigan 49 – Penn State 10
Michigan 14 – Wisconsin 7
Michigan 78 – Rutgers 0
Michigan 41 – Illinois 8
Michigan 32 – Michigan State 23
Michigan 59 – Maryland 3
Michigan 13 – Iowa 14
Michigan vs. Indiana
Michigan at Ohio State