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Breakdown: Michigan seniors preparing for a happy send-off

Erin Kirkland/Daily
Junior quarterback Devin Gardner has impressed in his first two career starts at quarterback, beating Minnesota, Northwestern. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 15, 2012

Iowa visits Ann Arbor on Saturday riding a three-game win streak against the No. 23 Michigan football team. The Hawkeyes toppled the Wolverines last fall after a disputed last-ditch pass to Junior Hemingway was ruled out of bounds in the back of the end zone, giving Michigan one of its two losses of the season.

The last time the Wolverines beat Iowa was Oct. 21, 2006, a 20-6 victory at Michigan Stadium, but with a 40-13-4 all-time record, Michigan still holds a significant edge in the matchup.

And this could be the year things turn back around.

Michigan rush offense vs. Iowa rush defense

When junior quarterback Devin Gardner stepped in to replace injured senior quarterback Denard Robinson two weeks ago, all eyes turned to the Michigan running game to see if it could buoy the offense and help the first-time starter at quarterback.

But, as it turns out, it may not be so important after all. Gardner has passed for 234 and 286 yards in the past two starts, respectively. The rushing numbers, while not necessarily an accurate barometer of the offense’s success, have come crashing down from the marks set with Robinson at the helm.

Gardner has teamed up with redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, often spelled by sophomore bruiser Thomas Rawls, to combine for 155 and 133 rushing yards in victories over Minnesota and Northwestern, though the attempts haven’t dwindled drastically. With Robinson at quarterback this season, the Wolverines had just one game with lower rushing totals — Michigan rushed for just 69 yards on 29 carries in a season-opening defeat to then-No. 1 Alabama.

Toussaint did break loose for a 50-yard gain against the Wildcats, but he made one cut too many and fumbled the ball on the three-yard line.

Iowa’s front seven, anchored by junior linebacker Christian Kirksey — who has two interceptions and four fumble recoveries this fall — has posted middle-of-the-pack numbers in the ground game, allowing 154.4 yards per game, but that might be enough to get it done against a suddenly pass-reliant Michigan offense.

Edge: Iowa

Michigan pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense

Gardner changes everything.

Michigan averaged 171.5 passing yards through the first eight weeks of the season with Gardner platooning at wide receiver and Robinson at quarterback — with redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy playing one game in relief. In the past two games with Gardner under center, Michigan has averaged 250 passing yards.

Facing a Hawkeye defense that allowed 406 passing yards to Indiana two weeks ago and 279 to Purdue last Saturday, Gardner shouldn’t have a problem picking apart the secondary.

Senior cornerback Micah Hyde and Kirksey — who intercepted Robinson on the goal line last fall — are the playmakers to keep an eye on. But, if you’re looking for a good omen, one play before Kirksey’s interception, Gardner got a snap and completed a two-yard pass. So, he’s perfect against Iowa. Take that to the bank.

Edge: Michigan

Iowa rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

Do you know the AIRBHG?

That’s the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. It’s a real thing, or at least the college football scene believes it is.

The tailback Michigan faced last year was Marcus Coker. He transferred to Stony Brook this spring. Then sophomore Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in spring ball. Sophomore De’Andre Johnson had two run-ins with the law this summer and was dismissed from the team.

Freshman Barklay Hill tore his left ACL in mid-August. Sophomore Damon Bullock took over as the starter but missed four games after suffering a concussion in mid-September in a game against Northern Illinois. He was replaced by freshman Greg Garmon, who also had a run-in with the law during the summer, but Garmon injured his right arm later in the game.

Guard yourselves, and your ACLs, out there.

Bullock has since returned to form and has led the Iowa rushing attack along with sophomore fullback Mark Weisman. But Iowa ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten with 124 rushing yards per game.

Michigan’s front seven has made marked improvements since early struggles against Alabama and Air Force, in particular, and ranks sixth in the Big Ten, allowing 153.7 rushing yards per game.

Edge: Michigan

Iowa pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

Considering that the Michigan secondary is the No. 1 pass defense in the nation at 149.2 passing yards per game, it could be a very difficult afternoon for Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenberg.

The secondary has allowed just two more passing touchdowns (nine) than interceptions (seven). Iowa’s offense has that ratio rather backward — five passing touchdowns to six interceptions.

Though Vandenberg posted an impressive stat line of 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last fall, his hype train has faltered considerably. Under the senior signal-caller, Iowa’s five passing touchdowns are good for third-worst of all FBS teams.

Edge: Michigan

Special teams

The kickers in this matchup cancel each other out. Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons is 14-for-16 this fall; Iowa’s Mike Meyer is 16-for-19.

The punters are punters, and therefore all but cancel each other out. (Though, let’s face it, Michigan junior Will Hagerup’s 44.7 yards per punt gives him the edge over Iowa punter Connor Kornbrath.)

Iowa has a few dangerous return men in Hyde and junior Jordan Cotton. Cotton has returned a kick for a touchdown and leads the Big Ten with a 27.9-yard average. (And keep in mind that the Wolverines allowed a kick return for a touchdown that was called back last week.) But Michigan freshman Dennis Norfleet’s 23.7-yard average isn’t too shabby, either.

Special teams need to be special, and both teams are, well, equally special.

Edge: Push

Intangibles

For the sake of simplicity: This game is tipping in Michigan’s favor more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke is a perfect 13-0 at Michigan Stadium since taking over as head coach last year. He is 58-6 all-time on the Michigan sideline.

This is the last home game for a senior class that has seen the best and worst of times for the Michigan football program.

And this is a bad Iowa team across the field.

It’s stacked up just right, now it’s just time to fill the student section — before the second quarter — and see how it plays out in between the lines.

Edge: Michigan

Final Score: Michigan 35, Iowa 17


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