'Defensive masterpiece' helps Michigan get past Hawkeyes
Ann Arbor — Walloping Rutgers is one thing. Playing a solid team and mustering 10 points, all scored in the first quarter, is quite another and very much an indication of how unproductive and unimaginative Michigan’s offense has been.
But wait. Wasn’t “speed in space” supposed to razzle and dazzle?
The most entertaining part of Michigan’s performance Saturday in a 10-3 victory over Iowa was its defense. The Wolverines had eight sacks and three interceptions of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and also had a fumble recovery. And yet, Michigan’s offense continues to struggle under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ command, and it barely had a pulse despite what the Wolverines’ defense was doing.
The 19th-ranked Wolverines said they regained some confidence in last week's 52-0 rout of Rutgers, a week after being dominated in every phase in a gut-punch loss at Wisconsin. But No. 14 Iowa, which had beaten Michigan five of the last six meetings, was unbeaten its first four games this season and, while not flashy, is a balanced team and was widely considered a significant test for the Wolverines.
Michigan (4-1, 2-1 Big Ten) passed this test by score and defense only. The offense earned an incomplete.
The Wolverines, who missed a 58-yard field goal at the end of the first half and a gimme field goal in the fourth quarter, had 159 yards and 10 points in the first half and then in the second half had a mere 112 yards on 27 plays, and, of course, no points. Quarterback Shea Patterson was 14-of-26 for 147 yards and had one interception. Michigan had 120 yards rushing with Zach Charbonnet leading the backs with 42 yards on 13 carries.
“Sometimes it’s going to be like that,” Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said. “We were fortunate the defense came out and played the way they did. They kept us in the game the whole entire time. We just stayed patient, took what they gave us. Put a few drives together. We left a lot out there. We’ve got to start finishing in the red zone, but any time the defense plays like that, you just try to help them out as much as you can.”
Iowa had 260 yards of offense and was credited with one yard rushing – Michigan’s eight sacks cost the Hawkeyes 65 yards. That was the program’s best sack output since the Ohio State game in 2016 and was one more than the Wolverines had this season entering the game.
“Obviously that was a defensive masterpiece,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They were very well-prepared. Player-wise, it was obvious from Play 1 to the last play of the game everybody was hustling and playing with great effort.”
The Wolverines led 10-3 at halftime, but their offensive performance was hardly inspired from the start. Four of their last five drives of the half accumulated 26 yards on 13 plays and went like this: interception, punt, punt, punt.
What has been lacking the last three games has been a run game. Michigan was held to 40 yards rushing in the debacle at Wisconsin, and last week against Rutgers had 141 with Christian Turner leading the way with 48 yards. It was clearly difficult for Patterson to find a rhythm in the offense against the Hawkeyes.
He had a big 51-yard pass play with Nico Collins in the first half, and then the play-calling seemed to go away from trying to strike deep. And there were two curious calls in the game – a direct snap to Charbonnet that gained one yard to set up 3rd-and-9 in the first half and then late in the third quarter receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones carried the ball and lost nine yards, leading to 2nd-and-19. Patterson was sacked the next play for 3rd-and-26.
Still, Harbaugh found a silver lining when asked his evaluation of the offense.
“I thought they took what was there,” Harbaugh said. “It’s about every Iowa-Michigan game I’ve ever been associated with – 12-10, 10-3, 13-10. I thought Shea, in particular, took what was there and sometimes there wasn’t anything there. Managed the game extremely well. Did the job on the turnovers. Won that battle. I thought our offensive line played really good, really physical. They’ve got guys who can put pressure on the quarterback.”
Center Cesar Ruiz said the game was a “dogfight.”
“We were playing a good team, and we knew what it was going to be,” Ruiz said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight the entire game. That’s what you saw. There are still some things we’ve got to clean up. They weren’t detrimental to today’s game. Just two good teams playing each other.”