Iowa: Big Ten champions? | Keys to massive victory vs. Michigan

After a wild rivalry weekend in college football, the Iowa Hawkeyes find themselves in first place in the Big Ten West Division and are set to compete for a Big Ten title Saturday night. After suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of Purdue and Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes were dismissed by many people. Kirk Ferentz’s team gutted out wins in each of its last four games to finish with a conference record of 7-2, good for a spot in Indianapolis.

Iowa will face a tough Michigan team led by Jim Harbaugh. Michigan is coming off its first defeat of bitter rival Ohio State in a decade. Now, the Wolverines are a win away from a birth in the College Football Playoff. They will need to put last week behind them and focus solely on Iowa in order to make that happen.

The Hawkeyes, if everything were to go right during Championship Week, are still mildly hopeful that they can finish in the top four of the playoff rankings. It certainly is a longshot, but the narrow path remains with a win on Saturday over the Wolverines. Certainly, a trip to Pasadena remains even more viable.

Iowa will only win if they succeed in all three phases of the game. Here is how they can shock Michigan, much like they did when #2 Michigan visited Kinnick in 2016 (14-13).

Keys to Victory

First, Iowa’s offensive line will have its hands full all night. Michigan boasts a dominant duo of pass rushers (Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo) that took over against the Buckeyes of Ohio State. Iowa is anchored by NFL prospect Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum has been tremendous in the run game all season, but for Iowa to be able to throw football effectively, Iowa’s young tackles will need to step up in a big way. If the offensive line can create holes for Tyler Goodson to exploit and protects the quarterback more often than not, the offense has a chance to succeed.

Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum (65) against the Colorado State Rams Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Kinnick Stadium. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

Brian Ferentz must get Goodson involved early and often, as well as the receivers that Iowa deploys. Keagan Johnson has been a major bright spot at wideout this year and is capable of making big plays, even against a tough Michigan defense. Sam LaPorta will also be a key for Iowa in the passing game. He’s been a top target all year on third down and is proficient at helping Iowa move the chains.

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) against the Maryland Terrapins Friday, October 1, 2021 at Capitol One Field at Maryland Stadium. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

An aspect of the offense that was not good against Nebraska (and hasn’t been good all year) is red zone efficiency. When Iowa gets inside the 20-yard line, it’s simple: They need to score a touchdown. There’s no way around it. The game can potentially be won or lost based on Iowa’s ability to make the most of their limited opportunities against a stout defense.

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Yahya Black (94) reacts after nearly intercepting a pass against the Colorado State Rams Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Kinnick Stadium. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

Speaking of stout defense, the Hawkeyes have a dangerous unit on their side, as well. Phil Parker’s squad shut down Nebraska in the second half on Black Friday, and they need to be tough from start to finish on Saturday. Michigan has a very talented running back in Hassan Haskins. If Phil Parker’s group contains him, then they change how Michigan wants to play. Michigan does not throw the ball as effectively as they run it, and Iowa’s zone typically makes it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to throw for a ton of yards. As long as Iowa keeps the pressure on the Michigan passing game and can avoid giving up explosive plays on the ground, they should be able to hold Michigan in check.

Iowa is used to being the underdogs, and Ferentz has won a number of games as such. One could argue, though, that none have been as big as the opportunity Iowa has in front of it Saturday.

Don’t pay attention to the spread (Iowa +11), the rankings (#13 vs. #2), or the history. When kickoff comes on Saturday evening (7:00 p.m.), the team that shows up and shows more fight and determination throughout the game will likely be victorious. Iowa has what it needs on both sides of the ball to be that team and be the Big Ten champions.

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