For a Power 5 team in a rut, playing Rutgers can have the equivalent effect of a hangover cure or some kind of miracle exfoliant. Michigan, following a wounding loss to Wisconsin, dismantled the Scarlet Knights so unsparingly last week that Rutgers fired their head coach and replaced him with, I think, the CEO of Barilla Pasta. The hope in Wolverineland was that the victory might provide Michigan’s skittish offensive playmakers the confidence needed to beat No. 14 Iowa this weekend. And while Michigan did end up with a 10-3 win, it was a grueling, unpretty one that had absolutely nothing to do with any of them.
Instead, it was Michigan’s lights-out defense that closed this one out, ending Iowa’s streak of 19 consecutive quarters with points. The Wolverines forced four turnovers against a team that had been the best in the nation at holding onto the ball. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley hadn’t thrown an interception through four games. By the end of this one, he’d been picked off three times.
Factoring in the eight sacks on Stanley, Michigan’s running defense held Iowa to one measly yard rushing—just one more than you or I ran! But Michigan’s offense just couldn’t capitalize; they managed only one field goal off a Hawkeye turnover, running back Mekhi Sargent’s fumble on the opening-drive. Quarterback Shea Patterson finished with just 14 completions on 26 attempts for 147 yards and an interception. After Zach Charbonnet ran for a 2-yard touchdown to get the Wolverines up 10-0 with eight minutes to go in the first, they were held scoreless through three quarters.
Iowa, sloppy though they were, had the chances and field position to take the game to overtime or win on their last two drives, but (surprise!) sacks and penalties forced them to punt at fourth-and-36 from midfield on the first try. On their final possession, the Hawkeyes turned the ball over on downs at Michigan’s 44 with under a minute left. So, for the “visual learners” out there, here’s how the second half went:
Michigan’s Big 10 title hopes remain alive, but the panic should start setting in now if it hasn’t already. The team’s promised new-look offense has precisely one new look (it’s “really bad”) and the defense can’t be expected to carry the team to this degree every week. The Wolverines will face Penn State in two weeks, Notre Dame the week after that, Michigan State next month, and then, gulp, Ohio State. But hey, isn’t it supposed to be their year?