View from the other side: Michigan vs. Iowa
Iowa at Michigan
► Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
► TV/radio: Fox/950 AM
► Records: No. 14 Iowa 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten; No. 19 Michigan 3-1, 1-1
► Line: Michigan by 3
View from the other side
Mike Hlas covers Iowa football for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. He breaks down the Hawkeyes for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan-Iowa game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @hlas.
► Question: Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley has 136 straight pass attempts dating to last season with no interceptions. To what do you owe his consistency, and is this the most efficient you’ve seen him play?
► Hlas: Stanley is playing like a third-year starter. He's had a nice career with some big performances, but he has more command of the game and his unit now. He made a throw on a rollout for a touchdown Saturday against Middle Tennessee that he may have trouble with in the past. He made a third-quarter pass on a 3rd-and-22 against Iowa State from the Iowa 19 that not only threaded a needle, but changed the game. He's also made big rushing plays on occasion, a new element for him. He's not a superstar, but I don't think Iowa would trade him for any quarterback in the conference given what they want from him.
► Question: This Iowa defense looks pretty fierce, especially against the run. Michigan hasn’t been particularly overwhelming in the run game. How do you see that matchup?
► Hlas: Something to know is Iowa hasn't faced a team with a good rushing game and three-fourths of its games were against mundane competition. Iowa State has a potent offense, but has been pass-heavy this season and its two touchdowns against the Hawkeyes were scored on bombs. The Hawkeyes have a stout defensive line, and the defense has been getting off the field quickly all season. In fact, Iowa is second nationally in fewest plays allowed per game at 52.8. The linebacking is solid and veteran. The secondary has gotten the job done, though it has been racked with injuries. It's a good defense, especially up front. End A.J. Epenesa's sacks and tackles for losses numbers may be ordinary so far, but he is not.
► Question: Jim Harbaugh said this week they’ve scaled back Zach Charbonnet’s carries and suggested this is more of by-committee run game. The Hawkeyes are doing something similar with three backs. What is that rotation like, and who stands out?
► Hlas: Mekhi Sargent is the starting running back and has played well, better than last year. He's had a lot of five- and six-yard carries. Toren Young is No. 2, gets ample work, and had a career-high 131 yards on just 11 carries last Saturday against Middle Tennessee. First-year freshman Tyler Goodson has forced his way into playing time. He had 97 yards on 12 carries last Saturday and may be the most exciting of the threesome.
► Question: Iowa has started 4-0 for the first time since 2015. How much of a threat are the Hawkeyes in the West? Looks like that game at Wisconsin in November will be absolutely critical.
► Hlas: I think the Iowa-Wisconsin game in November will be for the division title, though things can unravel quickly for anyone. Iowa needs to do no worse than split its games this week and next against Michigan and Penn State. If it does that and wins in Madison, it has the hammer. Likewise, Wisconsin can lose by 50 at Ohio State and would still control the West if it beats Iowa and everyone else. Minnesota could be 8-0 when it plays Penn State at home, and that would be great fun, but we'll all believe the Gophers are a contender only when we see it.
► Question: Michigan throttled Rutgers, as Iowa did, but the Wolverines were able to get its pass game going. How does Iowa match up with Michigan’s receivers?
► Hlas: Starting cornerback Matt Hankins has been out with a hamstring injury. This year, Hankins might have emerged as next in the line of succession of great Iowa defensive backs, from Desmond King (Detroit East English Village) to Josh Jackson to Amari Hooker. They won three of the last four Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year awards. Senior Michael Ojemudia of Farmington Hills is doing a nice job at one cornerback spot and has two interceptions. Freshman D.J. Johnson is the other corner. He has been good so far, but he will probably get plenty of action his way. A starting safety spot will go to either Jack Koerner or Belleville's Kaevon Merriweather, both in their first year of getting meaningful playing time on defense.
Players to watch
► Nate Stanley, QB: Veteran quarterbacks are always going to be tough, and Stanley fits right in. He has attempted straight 136 passes dating to last season without an interception, the sixth-longest active streak in the country. Stanley also has eight touchdown passes this year. He will be making his 31st career start on Saturday at Michigan had has 60 career touchdown passes, third all-time in Iowa history trailing Drew Tate (61) and Chuck Long (74). Iowa is 21-9 when Stanley has started and averaging 30.2 points a game. Entering this game, he has completed 64 percent of his passes and is averaging 241.3 yards a game. He also has one rushing touchdown.
► Mekhi Sargent, RB: Iowa features a running back-by-committee approach, and Sargent, a junior, is a key cog. He has made eight career starts in 17 games played. He leads the team heading into Michigan with 54 carries for 299 yards rushing. In last week’s win over Middle Tennessee State, he had 91 yards and a touchdown. The Hawkeyes have three running backs averaging more than 50 yards a game, led by Sargent (74.8), Toren Young (62.8), and Tyler Goodson (50.5). Sargent also ranks fourth in catches with nine and fifth in receiving yards (102). His 401 all-purpose yards lead the team.
► Daviyon Nixon, DT: Everyone who follows Big Ten football knows about Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, one of the best defensive players in the conference, but Nixon, a sophomore defensive tackle, has really come on. He has 11 tackles to lead all Iowa linemen and has a team-best 2.5 tackles for loss. Last week against Middle Tennessee State, he had a career-high seven tackles. Nixon also has a sack and two quarterback hurries this season.
Facts and figures
► Home sweet home: This is Michigan’s homecoming game, and Iowa has felt quite at home. The Hawkeyes have won their last two trips to Michigan — in 2002 and 2010 — that have fallen on homecoming. Iowa has won two straight and five of the last six meetings against the Wolverines. Michigan has won 20 of its last 24 homecoming games.
► Fast start: The Hawkeyes are 4-0 for the fifth time under head coach Kirk Ferentz (2003, 2006, 2009, 2015, 2019). Iowa went on to win 10 or more games in 2003, 2009, and 2015. Iowa most recently opened the season 5-0 in 2015, and also 2009.
► Top 10 coaches: Only Iowa and Michigan have two coaches ranked in the top 10 of both win categories — overall victories and Big Ten victories. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (156 overall, 92 Big Ten) and Hayden Fry (143, 96) and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler (194, 143) and Lloyd Carr (122, 81).